Purple mangosteen is the best-known (to most) of the many kinds of mangosteens that are consumed by humans. A few other species of Garcinia are exported from their country of origin, but most species are harvested and eaten locally. My treat yesterday was to sample purple mangosteen for the first time.
This plant species has a long and storied history (this link goes to a site by Ian Crown, who also gathered most of the quotes about the fruit below). Native to southeast Asia, purple mangosteen has also been cultivated in that area since ancient times. After distribution by European explorers and traders (presumably surviving en route via Wardian cases), the species has also been cultivated in other tropical areas of the world like Central America, the Caribbean islands, and tropical South America. Southeast Asia remains the world’s largest producer by far.
Purple mangosteen is rated as one of the most delicious fruits. Others have described their experiences with it:
No other fruit, for me, is so thrillingly, intoxicatingly luscious…I’d rather eat one than a hot fudge sundae, which for a big Ohio boy is saying a lot.
– R. W. Apple Jr., former associate editor at The New York Times
When ripe the fruit is as delicate and agreeably sweet as the finest lansehs and may even be mistaken for ripe grapes. It is at the same time so juicy, that many people can never eat enough of it, so delicious is its fragrance and agreeable its sweetness; and it is believed that the sick, when appetite or the power of eating has wholly gone, are nevertheless delighted with this fruit; or at least if they will not take to Mangosteens their case is indeed hopeless.
– Dutch governor Georgius Everhardus Rumphius
The mangosteen has only one fault; it is impossible to eat enough of it, but, strictly speaking, perhaps that is a defect in the eater rather than in the fruit…It would be mere blasphemy to attempt to describe its wonderful taste, the very culmination of culinary art for any unspoilt palate
– Swedish zoologist Eric Mjöberg
On the flavour and texture, I find myself agreeing with Italian naturalist Odoardo Beccari, who wrote:
…an abundant white, juicy pulp, soft, sweet, slightly acidulated, and with a delicate, delicious flavour, which recalls that of a fine peach, muscatel grapes, and something peculiar and indescribable which no other fruit has.
Until the last decade or so, it was almost impossible to find purple mangosteen in US markets (in Canada, it is rare; in Australia, it is described as “available”; please share in the comments about other parts of the world). Fruits do not ripen post-harvest (i.e., they are not climacteric), so must be picked, shipped, distributed, sold, and consumed within a week or two. Another concern for the US market is the potential import of pests like spotted wing drosophila (SWD) from Asia, so the fruits have to be irradiated–an added expense to an already expensive fruit. Around 2007, Thailand began to irradiate its exported crops, so the fruits started appearing in select US markets (however, SWD is also now established in many fruit-growing regions of North America). One of the few (or the only?) importers of non-irradiated purple mangosteen into US markets was the aforementioned Ian Crown. A frequent BPotD contributor and commenter, Ian is also the owner of the Puerto Rico-based Panoramic Fruits.
To read about Ian’s journey with mangosteens (and much additional information about the fruit and plants), start with this 2006 New York Times interview: “Forbidden? Not the Mangosteen“. Ten years later, Ian was interviewed by National Geographic, “Meet the Mangosteen“. Perhaps Ian will comment, but it seems from the latest update on his company’s site that his dream of a tropical fruits farm is over, due to Hurricane Maria. You can read his letter here: November 30, 2017 – Hurricane Maria. I think I know Ian well enough from our correspondences to share part of his letter (but do read the rest),
I am writing to say that I lost most of my farm; high percentages of fruit trees like rambutan and durian and mangosteen were either blown over or blown away without a trace. Some of the trees blown over might have been saved but the farm was not accessible for days and my people had one objective; take care of their own needs first. This is how it should be. My farm is blessed with a very old cistern that has been providing potable water for a very long time and it became a critical resource for many. Any and all who could get to this cistern were welcomed, this is what water is for if you have any-sharing.
Ian, I am sorry for the loss of your farm. I hope that some silver lining has been or can be found, for you, those you employed, and their families.