I adore alphonso mangoes.
I’ve loved them as long as I can remember and they come right at the top of my (very long) list of favourite foods. Some people suggest that all mangoes are equal but that’s definitely not the case. This king of mangoes has a heady perfume and sweet, intense flavour that is hard to match.
Mangoes originated on the Indian subcontinent and in my opinion, the varieties from this region are still the best.
Alphonso mangoes, known as haphoos in India, are to those fat red and green simulacrums that grace supermarket shelves all year round what the sun is to a 30 watt light bulb.
Alphonsos put those Tommy Atkin pretenders to shame and I hardly consider them to be the same fruit at all!
Only in season for a couple of months, the alphonso is grown in Western India and also in Pakistan, where it is considered one of the best of the many mango cultivars. Indeed, the mango is the national fruit (who knew such a thing existed?!) of both countries.
Why the European name for this very Asian variety? The alphonso mango is named for Afonso De Albuquerque, a nobleman and Admiral who was the second governor of Portuguese colonial empire in India. It has been claimed that Portuguese missionaries introduced the technique of grafting to India, but historical evidence of grafting prior to Portuguese colonisation makes this unlikely; it has also been suggested that the Portuguese were instrumental in creating new cultivars, and that one such cultivar might have been the alphonso mango – it’s possible. What is likely is that they applied new colonial names to produce they ‘discovered’ and delighted in, overwriting existing local nomenclature. In any case, the alphonso cultivar grew in popularity and spread to other regions of India.
Of course, there is strong competition from other honey mangoes (the catch all name used to market Pakistani mangoes but which sometimes refers to Indian ones too). If I’m honest, I’m just as happy with a box of kesar, chaunsa, dusehri or langra mangoes as with my alphonsos! There are many more than these, but not readily available in the UK.
When I was a kid, honey mangoes were a little harder to find in the UK, though our local cash and carry and a few Asian grocers stocked them, in season. Nowadays, not only do all the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi grocers carry them, you can also find them in many local fruit and veg shops, in Chinese supermarkets and even your regular supermarket chains.
The start of the mango season is much celebrated in India, and often makes the headlines. Prices are widely discussed, boxes are sent to family, friends and colleagues and online delivery services do a roaring trade. Mango fans gorge on their favourite fruit, buying plenty to eat at home, enjoying freshly squeezed juice from street vendors and attending mango celebration events.
In the UK, the season is more quietly anticipated though greeted with no less glee by those in the know.
For those who’ve never enjoyed an alphonso mango (or any of the sister honey mango varieties) do make sure it’s the one new treat you try this year. You will surely fall as deeply in love with them as me.
This was written as a guest post last year for MADD, purveyors of mango drinks and sweet treats, at Rupert Street, Soho. My favourites from their menu include the mango and passionfruit smoothie, the sticky coconut rice and fresh mango and the pistachio almond mousse cake.