Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostina) is definitely one of my top 10 fruits on the entire planet. It would be on the menu at my ideal last supper. A native to Malaysia and Indonesia, the picky tree requires exacting growing conditions and is difficult to propagate. In the Philippines, most of the mangosteen harvest comes from Sulu, Zamboanga and Davao del Norte. An estimated 5000 metric tons of fruit is harvested every year, according to the Philippine Department of Agriculture website. What is really stunning about this fruit is the complexity of its flavor. Ensconced inside a thick deep maroon or red peel (that stains blood red) are several cottony white segments (at least one large segment possessing a seed). These segments are sour, sweet, sharp, soft and delicious all at the same time.
At a market recently, the earliest crop of mangosteens (usually in season from June to November but all fruit this year seems to be about a month early) were on offer. I purchased some despite their somewhat small size and they were pretty good. Perhaps another month or so before the really good stuff hits the markets but these will do for now, thanks. My earliest memory of this fruit was a fairly fancy dinner in my teens. Seated at a formal table, the dishes were cleared away and fruit knives, plates and finger bowls emerged from the kitchen. Next, an enormous bowl (silver, or plate, I think) emerged with several kilos of the most stunning looking mangosteens. I remember everyone just tucking in and the fruit was absolutely delicious and clearly memorable. Few people talked during this part of dessert and the contents of the bowl were completely wiped out.
The fruit is revered in Indonesia and Malaysia and other parts of the region. It is not often seen in the West but some growers in Hawaii are attempting to raise a critical mass in order to introduce the fruit to the U.S. mainland. In Paris, I once spied mangosteens (from Africa?) at the fruit section of Fauchon, the venerable food store, and I just had to buy one as I hadnâ€™t eaten one in over 4 years. It cost about USD4.00 for one piece! But it was worth it! We tend to take mangosteens for granted as they seem to be everywhere during the height of the season. Consistency is tough to achieve so one has to buy several times before hitting mangosteen nirvana. Like pomelos, there is no guarantee that the fruit within is any good. Itâ€™s best to taste them. Bring a small knife with you to market, sample fruit from a vendor with a large amount, and if good, buy as much as you can eat. If you havenâ€™t had them lately, try some mangosteens and savor one of the most complex and delicious fruits the tropics has to offer. If you want to read more, David Karp wrote an effusive article on mangosteens in the July 2003 Special Produce issue of Gourmet Magazine.