Regulars to S.E. Asia always look forward to treating themselves to the wondrous mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) fruit, as to the lucky Expats that live in Thailand, well, we know the wonders!
It is a rare fruit indeed to find in your local grocery store back home if one comes from the western world. The first time I heard of it I thought it must be a fruit similar to one of my favourites, mango. The name is deceiving for this fruit is quite unique in all aspects. It has the look of a very small purple pomegranate, the insides are like a white tangerine with segments and the flavour, to my mouth, is like litchi and/or rambutan! While investigating this fruit to write this article, I learned why it is such a rare fruit locally set to the tropics and why it is sometimes so expensive back “home”.
It is like a very elitist high maintenance person to say the least! With the combination of needing certain sun, moisture, soil and perfect time to ripen, it is also not an easily accommodated nor an easily transported fruit outside of its natural growing areas. It takes 10 days for a fruit to completely ripen to perfection (from green to red to purple), then after it is picked can begin to spoil within a few days if no refrigeration with no outside sign of spoilage. The rind does harden a bit more after picking with the insides reaching the exact perfection possible but it can be downhill from there, so eating within a few days of being picked is really the only reliable way to have this amazing fruit at its best!
The mangosteen, or mangkhut, has been cultivated in Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and the Philippines since the 15th century with its delicate flavour widespread and known. The deep purple hard thick skin seems a bit daunting at first if one doesn’t know how to open it but with the score of a knife around the top half and thumbs pressing in afterwards, the top of the fruit can be lifted off quite easily. Trees can take up to 10 years to even begin to produce fruit. A grown tree in full maturity at 35 – 40 years can produce up to 3,000 fruits with trees growing as old as 100 years! Thailand is the country with the most planted acreage producing about 46,000 tons a year.
The whole growth process of the mangosteen is a very delicate matter which is why production hasn’t been successful in other tropical places on the planet like Florida, California, South America, Hawaii, Caribbean Islands or any other continent other than Asia. Porto Rica has one grower/farm that has been steadfast in their production of saleable mangosteen since 2005 (Panoramic Fruit Company, full story extremely interesting) but these fruits are only sold to select expensive health food stores in the States. Once the fruit has ripened on the tree and is picked, it doesn’t ripen any more. It is rather difficult to know when the fruit is ripe on the tree also so picking the fruit is a high skill! In S.E. Asia the mangosteens grow by the thousands and the local farmers know their crops! Lots of shade is needed as young trees grow, high humidity (80%) and sunshine/heat too (25 – 35 C.). Durian and banana trees can provide shade also so the intercropping technique is a must. I don’t usually study the growing habits of plants as much as I have with the recent enlightenment of mangosteen growth for this article but the realization how we are so gifted in Asia with this rarity of fruit and fullness of flavour for our taste buds kept me reading. In Thailand, the growing season is May through August. One must try to find the fruits at the market with the green stem on it showing it has recently been picked, is deep purple and just a fair bit soft still, not quite the rock hard rind yet. Then you’ll be good to go knowing that you’ve got some mangosteen for the next 3-5 days in its prime.
The health benefits of the mangosteen have not go unnoticed. It is now touted as a superfood in western society. One can buy powder for smoothies along with using the rind as a medicinal tea. The fruit has Vit C, B9/1/2, Manganese, Copper and Magnesium but the high level of Xanthones is what is being studied for cancer prevention these days. The antioxidant activity of Xanthones are; anti-inflamatory, anticancer, anti-aging and have anti-diabetic effects. Xanthones come from the pericarp, whole fruit, heartwood and leaf of the mangosteen. The potential chemo preventive and chemo-therapeutic activity of Xanthones has been positively demonstrated in tests regarding cell division, inflammation and metastasis. Xanothones can inhibit the proliferation of human tumor cells, this is an amazing healing discovery in this day and age of cancer coming into most peoples lives in one form or another through family, friends or friends of friends. Heart, brain and digestive health from mangosteen is being studied now due to the effect on cholesterol, decreasing brain inflammation and high fibre content.
In indigenous traditional medicine, mangosteen has been used to treat skin infections, urinary tract infections, dysentery and gastrointestinal complaints. In Indonesia, in particular, the rind of the mangosteen is used to create a beautiful dye of browns, reds and purples for their traditional ikat and batik textiles. In Thailand, the mangosteen wood has been made to make spears and cabinetry. As I wander in and among the fruit stalls in various S.E. Asian countries, the mounds of mangosteen is incredible! Little did Queen Victoria know way back then, if the rumour is true, that when she offered 100 pounds to any explorer that could bring her her favourite fruit, the mangosteen, it would go down in history as The Queen of Fruits! During some recent time in Bali, I was working on a painting of the mangosteen that was going to be fairly large but as I painted both the fruit and flower, the painting began to take on its own mind. I ended up with two different paintings that went to a good home in California from a visiting lady friend from a facebook group! In this article I have both paintings shown, the flower; Dream Mangosteen, and the Fruit; Mangosteen Queen.
Miss Margaret Johnston enjoys educating people about the wondrous qualities of the medicinal plants she encounters on her travels. Holistic Health Education through Art has been incubated in conjunction with writing for us here at Expat Life Thailand since 2015. One can follow her on www.mejcreations.com to see how her travels are progressing as she continues to enjoy discovering S.E. Asia.