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Mangosteen: A Queen of Fruits

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Summer Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(2) page(s): 9, 10, and 32

Not native to China, but rather to the islands of the Moluccas and Malaysia, Garcinia mangostana, is now a beloved fruit by those Chinese familiar with the mangosteen. No wonder, sometimes, it goes by its other name, ‘queen of fruits.’ Whatever its name, this fruit in the family Guttiferae, has become very popular and Chinese people do seek it out when in season.

It is a small fruit, about the size of a mandarin orange. It has long been known throughout Southeast Asia including in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and more recently, in China. The latter familiarity can be credited to sailors from the Fujian province. For centuries, they plied Southeast Asian waters, found it, and when they settled elsewhere or returned to China, made attempts to get it to grow. However, the mangosteen had other ideas. They quickly learned it was difficult to propagate be it by cutting, planting the seed, or even trying to graft it on to another rootstock. They actually might have been more successful had they known that ten years to sprout is not unusual and a like number of years is needed for it to bear fruit.

Thus, growing this fruit is a testament to tenacity, patience, talent, and know-how. When full grown, a mangosteen tree can be forty-five feet or smaller, but until it gets there, it takes many years because it is very slow growing. When ready to bear, it fruits twice a year to the delight of those who waited for it and for all the others who adore it.

This tropical fruit, which some refer to as ultra-tropical, is brownish on the outside, becoming more purple as it ripens. It has a tough exterior and a white juicy flesh within. Some say the white looks similar to a lychee, most others beyond the color association, disagree. The inside is divided into segments, more like a tangerine, and each of the four to eight segments most often has a small to good-size seed, though there are some with no seed at all. Technically, the seeds are really in name only because these are adventitious embryos or hypocotyl tubercles. What do these words mean, there has been no sexual fertilization and a shoot emerges from one end of this so-called seed and a root from the other.

The texture of the fruit is delicate and the taste is somewhat reminiscent of a lychee-textured grapefruit, but not as juicy, nor as sweet, and certainly much more aromatic. This fruit is delicious with a hint of acidity and a tiny amount of sour aftertaste. They keep well on a counter top for some ten days to two weeks, and in storage of about fifty degrees they are known to stay up to three weeks or thereabouts. Do select yours with the largest number of lobes at the top, these indicate the largest number of fleshy segments within.

Most westerners are less than familiar with mangosteens. They may not know to look for shiny undamaged fruit with not a drop of visible bruising. A bright hardened yellow drop of juice indicates a spot of bruise. Mangosteens are tough on the outside, and refrigeration destroys their texture and taste, even some of their wonderful aroma. They are best eaten some days after picking or purchasing.

How to get the delicious flesh inside is a topic of some dispute. Not in that category is that one should not use a utensil of any nature to extricate the their fine flesh. But how to get to that fruit? We are of the school of cutting just through the exterior at its midpoint between stem and the scar-like flat spot on the bottom. Then to gently squeeze the exterior one hand turning left, the other right, until the shell pops open. Some would argue to cut in skin deep around the top then to try to tear it apart. No matter different folks techniques, all agree not to use that knife to separate the segments. Rather, do that gently and only with fingers. Keep in mind that the texture is somewhat akin to a ripe plum. Taste one once, and if it was ripe, you’ll be hooked. And do this task once with a white cloth napkin, and you will never forget it because mangosteen stains are permanent.

Other than their primary use which is to eat them out of hand, the mangosteen is used to dye leather and for other industrial purposes. And, of course, it is used in many ways as a food, mostly fresh. Called zhuguo by the Chinese, many know it is technically a berry, and that berries need to be handled gently. They also know that it is not in any way related to the mango, though it does share five letters in its name. Many love it as a juice, and as such they report the taste somewhere between a strawberry and a melon. One reporter indicates it best very cold. That person said it tastes floral and like ice cream. We think it loses aroma when cold and as it is a tropical fruit, it is best not to drastically reduce its temperature. The texture at chillier temperatures is less than creamy.

Most recently, mangosteens were found in a few Asian supermarkets. They were in season, and Chinese customers were snapping them up. We spoke to several large purchasers. They all said they were good because they were yin, cool, and assertive. Most went on to say that the fruit clears away heat and quenches thirst. They were amazed that we knew about them until we said we had our first ones on a trip to Hong Kong in 1976.

We asked these shoppers about the shell, expecting a shrug or less, but were told they do not discard it because it is the source of curative powers. What were these we asked? Surprised that we knew the fruit but not its great value, they went on to say the rind had purposes anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. They all seemed to know to grind it and use it as a wound-healer and also to use it to stop diarrhea. Two ladies said they had eaten some ground up rind and both pointed to their stomachs. My interpreter said they meant for a common gastro-intestinal disorder. One woman said she makes hers in the blender and puts it on her crippled knees. Another said she uses it to treat her eczema mixing the rind with a cream and then pounding it into a paste.

One lady told us where to order it as a juice, the ‘webweb’ she repeated several times. She told us her traditional Chinese medicinal doctor told her that and told her it would help her eczema and reduce her cholesterol, too. She told us the juice she buys from the ‘webweb’ is made from the whole fruit, rind and all, and that is why it is so good. She whispered that same doctor recommended it for her son’s friend who had aids. She continued to whisper and said it was used for other diseases, too. We assume she meant other autoimmune diseases, but that is our conjecture.

As a culinary and not a medical practitioner, we asked about cooking with mangosteens. No one said they use the rind for that, but one elderly lady did say she uses the juice in a pudding similar to mango pudding. That lady said she adores the color and her friends have no idea why her pudding is so beautiful. “Tell them,” I said, “absolutely not,” she replied and quickly walked away.

Another lady kindly shared a recipe for shrimp with mangosteen, and that first lady hustled back to learn about that recipe. By the time we left, there was a crowd of almost a dozen standing around sharing recipes such as for fish with mangosteen, One woman asked me to print them up and she would get her lady friends to make them for the senior center she goes to. On the pre-arranged date, I had typed copies along, but perhaps due to a mis-communication, she never returned for them.

At a conference titled Bridges to Alternative Medicine we attended last year, several doctors were telling a group of medical practitioners at a coffee break that mangosteen has many super anti-oxidant properties, xanthones, one said. Another advised the rind has more than forty xanthones. A half dozen of them were tried and found effective in breast, prostate, lung, and stomach cancer. One person at this conference where mangosteen juice was discussed and dispensed said the website she knows is www.x-a-n-g-o.com. We did ask if the product was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for any of these disease states, and three vendors said people need to consult their own medical professional.

Later when talking to a Chinese traditional medicine doctor, he said he heard of all of the cures I mentioned being told about at the supermarket, but was not into prescribing this fruit because it is frequently unavailable. He did tell me to be sure to tell my readers that mangosteen can raise blood pressure and that it is, in large amounts, a central nervous system depressant. We found corroboration on these two points in a favorite book of ours, Fruits of Warm Climates by Julia F. Morton. Many years ago Dr. Morton did extensive research for the National Institutes of Health. She was also a biology professor at the University of Miami who had lectured about toxic and edible plants, particularly fruits.

As a food professional, we recommend mangosteen for its flavor, and highly recommend its use served over almond gelatin, or even mixed into a dish known as Fruit Kanten. See Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 8(3) on page 30 for that recipes. Some may know this dish as Almond Float. We suggest you try mangosteens fresh, in there, or in any gelatin dish. Also try them in the recipes below.
Red Snapper with Mangosteen
4 fresh mangosteens, opened, sections removed and carefully pitted
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 red snapper, about two pounds, steamed then cooled
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 cups carrots, shredded and blanched for one minute, then chilled in ice water before draining
2 cups green turnip such as kohlrabi or silk squash or butternut squash, peeled and finely shredded
2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1. Mix mangosteen section with the sugar and set aside.
2. Be sure all bones are removed from each half of the fish, then brush with sesame oil, before setting aside.
3.Mix sugar and carrots, then toss with turnip. Lemon juice, and rice vinegar. Let rest for fifteen minutes, then drain reserving the liquid.
4. On large platter, evenly spread vegetables around, but not to the edge of the platter. Place fish centered on these, and scatter the mangosteen sections on the top. Lightly moisten with some of the marinade and serve.
Shrimp with Mangosteen
5 fresh mangosteens, sections removed and carefully pitted
2 scallions, slivered into very small shards, keeping white and green sections separate
1/2 cup fresh coriander, slivered into shards
1 pound peeled raw shrimp, veins removed, and patted dry
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon corn oil
1. Gently toss mangosteen scallion, and coriander, and set aside.
2. Mix shrimp, egg white, cornstarch, and rice wine, and let stand for fifteen minutes.
3. Heat wok, add oil, and in half mintue add shrimp and stir-fry for half minute until they start to turn pink. Then add the mangosteen mixture and continue to stir-fry for another minute, then serve.
Mangosteen, Crab, and Pea Shoots
1/2 pound pea or sweet potato shoots
1 Tablespoon corn or another vegetable oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, slivered
1/4 pound fresh crab meat, all bone and cartilage removed
15 mangosteen sections, from about three fresh fruits, seeds removed
1/2 cup chicken stock mixed with two tablespoons water chestnut powder
1. Blanch pea shoots, drain, immerse in ice water for one minute, and drain again.
2. Heat wok, add oil, and fry garlic for half minute, then add crab meat, stir once or twice and remove from wok.
3. Add stock, pea shoots, and the crab meat mixture and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, Remove from heat just as it starts to thicken, keep stirring as it is poured into a reheated serving bowl; then serve.
Almond Mangosteen Tea
1/4 pound almonds, shelled, peeled, and soaked for two hours
1 Tablespoon glutinous rice, soaked for two hours
2 candied dates, soaked for two hours
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon sugar
3 fresh mangosteens, segments removed and pitted
1. Drain almonds, rice, and dates. Mix with two cups of water and put in a blender and blend for two minutes, then filter and discard the solids.
2. Put remaining almond/rice/date milk in a pot, add four cups of water and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Add evaporated milk and the sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.
3. Add mangosteen segments, and serve.

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