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.
WHERE TO BUY:
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 here.
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)
Importfood.com ($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):
Other ways to enjoy mangosteen:
freeze-dried mangosteen at Trader Joe's ($2.99 for 1.5 oz)
artificial mangosteen for display purposes