India is passionate about its mangoes – and the fact that the fruit is available only for a few months each year makes it even more desirable. Mangoes also signal the arrival of summer and their abundant displays in shops and carts foretell languorous afternoons spent indoors feasting on the delicious fruit.
A love for the ages
The scientific name Mangifera indica proudly indicates the mango’s native land. There are references to mangoes in Sanskrit literature and artefacts in the shape of mangoes have been found during excavations from the Indus Valley Civilisation (3300–1300BC).
Today, India is the world’s largest producer of mangoes, accounting for 54% of the global supply. And while mango season runs from April to August, different variants mature at different times. Popular varieties like the Himsagar and Kesar ripen early in the season, for example, followed by the Banganapalli and Langra and then the Neelum and Chausa in the late season. While it’s debatable which state has the best mangoes, many agree that the most popular varieties come from Lucknow (Dasheri), Hyderabad (Totapuri) and Ratnagiri (Alphonso), near Goa.
Food for the gods
The mango is also laden with cultural significance. In Hindu iconography, Lord Ganesha is often seen holding one in an upturned palm as a symbol of attainment. Having a mango tree in the yard is said to bring health and prosperity to the family. During some Hindu rituals, people place mango leaves at the entrance of houses as a symbol of peace and happiness.
While most often enjoyed on their own, mangoes abound in the diverse richness of Indian cuisine. Each region has its own mango recipes, using it in curries and rice dishes, as well as combining it with milk in puddings and with yoghurt in a dish called shrikhand.
When the season is over, people stock preserved versions of the fruit. Ripe mango slices are frozen, green mangoes are sliced, salted and combined with spices to make pickles and chutneys, while the pulp is used in ice cream and smoothies. They serve as wistful reminders of the best days of summer – until the season comes again.