Mango trees start flowering in January and February.Thousands of small, yellowish or reddish flowers are produced by a single tree in very showy, pyramid-like branched clusters that are about 6-40 cm (2.5 to 15.5 in ) in length. The flowers are supposedly 25% to 98% male, the are rest hermaphroditic, or having both male and female parts.
Most flowers start showing evidence of fruiting in February. I've heard people complaining for many months now of how dry it has been on Saipan and how we badly needed some rain. Mangoes however prefer dry weather in order for them to produce lots of fruits since rain washes away their pollen. It is said that they rely on some self-pollination to produce fruit, but rely more on insects such as flies, ants, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, and various bugs that seek the tiny flower's nectar. If we had anymore fanihi (fruit bats) then they would be excellent pollinators as well. Surprisingly, honeybees are not the best pollinators in this case!
By March, green mangoes are ready for harvest! People enjoy eating green mangoes because they are tart. They are also good for pickling. The locals adopted the word koko for pickled fruits or vegetables, from the Japanese, tsukemono. They usually artificially color mango koko with yellow or red food coloring. Green mangoes are also good for smoothies and Indian chutney. A good reason to eat them that way is for the high concentrations of Vitamin C.
In the Philippines, we like to eat our raw mangoes with shrimp fry paste or bagoong alamang to give it that salty-sour combination. On Saipan, the condiment concoction that is most popular for unripe mangoes is a mix of KoolAid punch powder, MSG (monosodium glutemate) or table salt (sodium chloride), and a type of pepper (fresh chilies or a chili sauce). The locals simply call this concoction "salt" mixing the sour taste of the mangoes with a mix of sweet, salty and spicy.It is a pretty tasty way to eat mangoes but it is not the healthiest as you can imagine!I actually sometimes prefer eating a mango this way just when it is starting to ripen so that the flesh is turning yellow, tastes between sweet and sour, and still firm. The locals call this stage, to'a literally meaning "ready for picking" or "mature".
Mangoes and Their Varieties
Mangoes are native to southern Asia mostly originating from eastern India, Burma, and the Andaman Islands. The name mango is derived from the Tamil word mangkay or man-gay. In India, there are over 500 named varieties (some say 1,000) that have evolved. Of course there is the chance that there are duplicates that were differently named, but there are at least 350 varieties that are commercially propagated. There are many different variations in the size, form, color and quality of the fruits. They may be shaped nearly round, oval, ovoid or kidney-like and lop sided. The following are some of the varieties I've sampled this year:
"Saipan" or Local Mango
These are the most common mangoes around. They tend to be slightly tangy and the flesh a bit stringy or fibrous. This type can be ripe and have skin color from green to pale yellow to orange and some have a bright red blush.The flesh is usually bright to slightly orange in color.
This is one of my favorites on island since the sugary flesh just seem to melt in your mouth. It is not as stringy as the "Saipan" mango and is shaped more ovoid. The skin does not turn yellow and has a juicy sweet aroma.
This is another popular Philippine variety like the Carabao. It is just as sugary sweet but a little more tart than the Carabao and a bit more fibrous. They say you can distinguish a Pico from other mangoes by the pronounced "beak" at the terminal end. The Picoalmost has the same shape as the Super Mango . In the Philippines, Pico represents 26% of mango crops produced.
"Hawaiian" or "Indian" Mango
These samples were given to us with the name, Hawai'ian mango. They look like a small type of what we called "Indian" mangoes in the Philippines that I was familiar with while I was growing up. Their shape is a bit rounded or compressed. I remember that I liked eating these raw or to'a better than fully ripe.
The skin ripens to a light green to yellow color. This variety has a very strong turpentine-like smell and aftertaste making it unpalatable to some. I like eating it cold straight from the fridge since it takes away some of the aftertaste.
The Panama mango has an almost orange-yellow pulp that is sugary-sweet, juicy and is very fibrous. One of my favorites varieties, it is quite elongated and flattened compared to the other varieties of mangoes found here on island.
Well, I hope you got to enjoy lots of mangoes on Saipan this season. We will have to wait another year for them to come back, or if you cannot wait, our sister Deece has made some terrific mango jam that you can enjoy off-season. Check out her blog or Expressions at the bottom of Capitol Hill. Thank you for talking stories with me once again.