Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Weird Food Wednesdays: Mangosteen

Mangosteen, the queen of all fruit!

Isn't it pretty?

The number of petals on the bottom will indicate how many segments of the fruit are inside.

Before April '08, I'd never even heard of
mangosteen before (rather embarassing, given that I'm from Southeast Asia, where the majority of the fruit are grown). I had my first taste of fresh mangosteen in Singapore last year, at the StraightsKitchen buffet in the Grand Hyatt hotel. The mangosteens were so popular that hubby Kris and I were lucky to grab even one before they all disappeared from the buffet.

The flavor of mangosteen is rather unique, almost indescribable, but fans have likened the flavor to a cross between strawberry, peach, kiwi, and plum; sweet with a little bit of sour. The texture reminds me of the inside of a grape, slightly slimy but firm, comparable to
lychee or longan. My cousin Anne-Marie argues that the texture is more like the interior of a plum and she swears that the flavor's been different every time she's tried it.

Fresh mangosteen from Southeast Asia were not available (at least not legally) in the US until two years ago, when the
USDA lifted a ban on importation, allowing Thai mangosteens on to US soil as long as they were treated with irradiation (to kill any foreign pests) before export. Not sure how irradiation affects the mangosteen's flavor or the reputed health benefits from the xanthones. What I do know is that mangosteens are still pretty rare in the US, and not being able to have them makes me want them even more.

Three weeks ago, while shopping at
T&T Supermarket in Vancouver (actually, more like 'browsing' since I was on vacation - doesn't everyone visit local supermarkets for fun while on vacation?), I noticed several women huddled around a pile of strange looking fruit.

What is that? Some kind of exotic purple potato? When I got close enough to see the sign for Thai mangosteens at $3.99/lb, my disbelief quickly turned into euphoria. I dove into the middle of the crowd and bagged at least 3 pounds of mangosteens before realizing that I didn't know how to tell whether they were ripe or not. I stopped stuffing my bag momentarily to observe the mangosteen picking prowess of my fellow shoppers. A friendly Asian woman advised me to choose the dark purple ones that have a slight give when you press the outer shell. I reluctantly put back the gorgeous (but unripe) magenta specimens and replaced them with the darkest ones I could find in the pile.

Back at home, I dug my fingernail into a soft exterior spot on a purplish brown mangosteen, and slowly began peeling away the thick red pericarp, exposing the milky white segmented flesh.

You're actually supposed to use a knife to score a line around the circumference so the peel comes off in two clean pieces. This method will result in most attractive display of the fruit within, but I'm far too clumsy to do that without cutting myself (flashback to a bagel slicing incident).

After I dug out the fattest segment, I bit into it anxiously, expecting to taste heaven, only to experience disappointment. It wasn't as good as I remembered. My own fault, really, I should have known better - imported fruit will never taste as good as indigenous fruit (so this is why my cousin Anne-Marie will only eat mangosteens in Malaysia). And you can't even blame irradiation, Canada is not subject to the same importation laws as the US. This mangosteen, while sweet and tangy, was definitely slimier and had a slight metallic aftertaste. Kris, however, couldn't get enough of these imported mangosteens, he swears the flavor and texture were exactly the same as what we'd eaten in Singapore. Not trying to knock my hubby or anything, but I still consider him a novice when it comes to exotic fruit. I was glad that I only spent $3.99 a pound on them at T&T!

So what did I do with the rest of the mangosteen? I handed one out to each of my bewildered friends. Definitely a conversation starter.


I think most of the hype comes from the novelty of this rare fruit, you certainly don't come across mangosteens very often in the US. But in my opinion, it's so NOT worth the $25-$40 per lb being charged at high-end specialty markets. Your best bet is to head to your local Chinatown, and look for the fruit carts that appear on the streets during the summer months (mangosteen season starts as early as April, lasting till August or September). You may also be lucky enough to find them fresh or frozen at your local Asian food market.

I'm also keeping updated on cheap mangosteen sightings in NYC

Don't have a Chinatown or Asian market nearby and desperate to have mangosteen? Here are some places you can get fresh mangosteen at ridiculous prices:

Melissa's ($42.30 + shipping for 2.5 lbs) ($43.65 + shipping for 2 lbs)
1-800 Organic Fruit of the Month Club (if you are just looking to satisfy your curiousity, you can buy just one mangosteen from here for $9.99 + shipping)
24 Hour Best Buy ($29.99 + shipping for 6 mangosteens)

NYC Specialty Markets:
Agata & Valentina (from Puerto Rico, starting in August)
Dean & Deluca (Thai mangosteens available occasionally during summer months, call first)

National Supermarkets (supplied by
Melissa's, not available at all locations, call first):
Harris Teeter

Other ways to enjoy mangosteen:
freeze-dried mangosteen at
Trader Joe's ($2.99 for 1.5 oz)
mangosteen juice
mangosteen perfume
artificial mangosteen for display purposes



Coconut Girl Connie said...

Hi Phyllis,

Great post. Mangosteen are being grown here in Hawaii now, but the bulk are shipped elsewhere to be processed into those antioxidant drinks, I guess the money is there for the farmers, and the drink has been proven to have healthy results. And also as you mentioned, the only place to get them reasonably is in China Town, Honolulu.

Heavenly Housewife said...

I have seen these. They really are pretty. That is so cool about how you can tell how many segments are inside. The first time I saw this was in Southall (London's version of Little India) but now Tesco (England's big supermarket chain) has these. They now do a section of wierd and wonderful fruits, u would like it ;). Still, I never would have known how to eat it. This is definitely one of your least intimidating wierd foods, so I will buy it tonight when I go, as long as they r there, and let u know what I think. The interior looks a lot like leechey fruit.
By the way, these are great pictures, especially the one with where the fruit is open. It looks like a flower :) Hope u submit it to the food porn pages, these pics look like winners!

Tangled Noodle said...

I had my very first taste of mangosteen even later than you - just this past December during our trip to the Philippines! My mom sent some to our hotel room but didn't give me any clue as to how to eat them.

Lesson Learned #1: a butter knife is useless for these!
Lesson Learned #2: the purple part is NOT edible!
Lesson Learned #3: the purple part should be used as ink, it stains so permanently!

I have not seen mangosteens here yet but I'm sure we'll catch up. I agree that they are delicious, despite all the effort (or was it because of it?) And thanks for the tip regarding the petals on the underside!

Anonymous said...

Ha, I was so surprised when these fruits showed up on Weird Wednesdays. We have them here, I cannot remember what they cost/pound. I'll have to look. I've been reluctant to buy them having tried them in Singapore and like you said, the imported just cannot be as good. I'll have to give it a go now, and do a comparison test.

Your pics and story were great. We had mangosteen sorbet at one of the big stores on Orchard, in Singapore. Have not seen too many recipes for them, but then again have not really looked.

KennyT said...

Phyllis, I love mangosteens so much. My mom normally buys durians and mangosteens together (apparently I'll only join the mangosteen part, and u know why, haha).

I guess it's the same in Singapore and Malaysia, people will eat Durians first and then mangosteens coz it's believed that mangosteens help remove the heatiness from durians, right? LOL

Jessica604 said...

Ah, so you're from NY. It's all good!

I actually spied some of these at my mothers house the other day - chances are that she bought them from T&T, they were wrapped on styrofoam trays, I suppose, to keep all the keeners from picking through the fruit and damaging any. Thank you for the info!

Jenn said...

I had mangosteen once when I traveled to the Philippines. My aunt had one of the kitchen table and I thought it was some kind of vegetable. I wasn't aware it even existed until then.

foodcreate said...

The bright red mangosteen I saw them in Miami ....

Thanks for sharing your pictures look so beautiful!

"Join our growing food community and submit your heirloom recipe for all the world to share:)


Anonymous said...

I've never tried a mangosteen but I've actually seen it in Wegmans! Maybe I'll get it next time to try, my daughter is now into trying new fruits.

Phyllis said...

Connie: Awesome you can get them in Hawaii! And I was shocked at how many supplements and anti-oxidant drinks are available out there, s lot of people think mangosteen is some kind of vitamin rather than a fruit.

Heavenly Housewife: I know, isn't that flower on the bottom so precious? Such a cute fruit. Yeah, I try to throw in something harmless for WFW every so often for the lightweights out there :) I hope you get to taste mangosteen soon, watch out for the pits in the bigger segments!

Tangled Noodle: Thanks for mentioning about the staining potential of the pericarp - mangosteen eaters beware!(not the day to wear your favorite white shirt) Ironically the inedible rind is supposed to be where all the healthy xanthones are located!

oysterculture: I was actually really surprised that most of my Asian friends (who usually grow up eating all types of exotic fruit) couldn't guess what it was. So that's how it became a topic for WFW. And let me know what you think of imported mangosteens (Hubby Kris still swears that they taste the same as the one he had in Singapore)

Kenny: I bet the mangosteens you are eating in HK are much tastier than the $12 ones we get here! And yes, I've read about the cooling properties of mangosteen vs the heat of the durian, I guess that's why they are the king and queen of fruit!

Jessica604: Yes, New York (actually NJ) by way of Canada by way of Malaysia. Maybe your mom got those mangosteens from Supermarket 88(formerly Buy-Low) on Victoria & 32rd - it's a haven for exotic fruit at affordable prices, and I remember them being packaged up the way you described.

Jenn: I'm glad that I'm not the only one who's such a novice with this fruit!

foodcreate: thanks for visiting and for your kind comment

5 Star Foodie: I've yet to see mangosteen at my local Wegman's but they are pretty good about carrying other exotic fruit, I guess there just isn't high enough demand for mangosteens in my area (yet). I hope you enjoy your first taste!

Teanna said...

I have always wanted to buy mangosteens, but they cost so much money in my supermarket! I might have to just pick some up to try them, though!

gastroanthropologist said...

I always visit the supermarkets when I travel - its my favorite tourist destination!

Mangosteen - I don't think I have every tried this. I love the color and the name though...I'll be on the lookout for them.

Phyllis said...

Teanna: Yeah, mangosteen prices in the US are highway robbery! Someone out there is making a fortune. Maybe just buy 1 to satisfy your curiousity.

Gastroanthropologist: YAY, another supermarket enthusiast!

Jackie at said...

This post brings me back in time when I was in Vietnam. Man, this fruit is good but it's so pricey over here and not as flavorful and sweet than the ones in Asia.

Piee said...

This is one of my favorite fruits to eat when I travel to Asia...boy...I miss it soo much!! =(

Washington said...

I am very lucky since I have a farm in Ecuador with 3000 mangosteens trees that will yield many fruits soon. The plantation is 8 years old, I hope in two years more we will harvest it. If somebody is interested in this marvelous fruit please ocntact me Washington Cobo,

Phyllis said...

Jackie: I just bought some more at a local Asian mart, can't wait to try them (wondering whether the irradiation will make them taste different).

Piee: Hi Piee, thanks for visiting! Totally sucks that they are hard to find and so expensive outside of Asia, especially since they don't taste as good (my hubby would disagree though, he loves them all)

Washington: 3000 mangosteen trees! You are very lucky indeed. Thanks for your comment.

Steve Balliett said...

Hi Phyllis,

Yes, the Mangosteen fruit is certainly one of the finest fruits GOD has created.

I used it along with Noni, Goji berry and Acai juices and the Vegan Diet to Cure Crohn's Disease from my body - permanently.

These super fruits along with the Dragon fruits have some of highest antioxidants in them to strengthen the immune system.

These juices - combined with the Vegan Diet - provided body strengthening power I needed to restore my health.

And...when I switched from eating an animal food strickly eating...a plant food diet.

At our local Jimbo's Market, they sell Mangosteen juice drinks in small pop-top cans to refrigerate and enjoy.

I just love the taste. They are so tropical and delicious.

Anonymous said...

a knife isn't needed to open an mangosteen; I think the easiest way to open it is to put the mangosteen between your two palms, exert pressure and it'll split into two nicely... :)try this method, think it's much less messy than using a knife or peeling