Ah, the mango! . . . what I would not have to bring to the proverbial deserted island, since I woul dhope to find it there. Dr. Jerry Simon, writing for the Caribbeanarena.com site, celebrates the wondrous fruit so central to Caribbean cultures.
Though the Bible never gave the exact identity of the forbidden fruit, for about 15 centuries the idea has been perpetrated that it was an apple.
The most likely geographical location of the Garden of Eden hardly supports that view, and logic might not either.
For while the apple is often very tasty and nutritious, is it something that Adam would give up a life of ease and bliss for? If we consider the forbidden fruit to be a mango, the story starts to make sense.
Seriously, whether the forbidden fruit was an apple, pomegranate, or mango is of small consequence. But we have a national treasure which we have not even begun to scratch the surface of in terms of its value. Whether we look at it in economic terms, aesthetic terms, for health or just for the taste, it is time we get serious about the mango.
The mango tree grows very naturally in Antigua and Barbuda. And because of its long and widespread (even unregulated) history of cultivation, we have many great varieties that are cultivated here. It is often bragged about how we have the sweetest mango, and almost without doubt we do. Hence, I have to wonder why I see Gerber mango from the States and bottled mango juice and syrup from Trinidad and elsewhere in our supermarkets, while our mangoes rot in some sidewalk gutter.
There is no question of the usefulness of mango; this has been established for eons. This is one of the world’s oldest and most widely cultivated plants, spreading from its native India to just about all tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is extensively exploited for food, juice, flavour, fragrance, colour, floral decorations, and landscaping. Hence, not only is the fruit utilized, but the leaves and tree as a whole.
As food, there is an almost endless number of ways to consume mangoes. We can eat the fresh ripe fruit, the fresh green fruit, the green fruit in chutneys, pickles, methamba and manga pachadi. Some people eat green mangoes raw with salt and pepper, or preserved in brine with dried red chilli. In India, a cooling green mango drink called panha is a favourite in the hot summer months.
Additionally, they can be consumed as lassi (a smoothie made by adding mango pulp to yogurt), in curry like mambazha kaalan, and in aamras (a thick juice made of mangoes, organic milk, and brown sugar). Of course, mangoes can be eaten as fruit bars, ice cream, yogurt, many forms of preserves, spices, in combination with other fruits and cereals, toasted with ground pumpkin seed (pepita in Guatemala) and in salads. The variety of mango dishes is as limitless as our imagination.
If mango was valued for its taste alone, its worth would be in gold. But when the nutritional value is added, we start going platinum. The ripe mango pulp is a rich source of vitamins A, B and C, and dietary fibre. It also has good levels of vitamin E and K, potassium, magnesium, copper and 17 amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). Mango peel and pulp are a good source of antioxidants and omega-3 and 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (the so-called good fats).
In fact, mango is a natural cancer fighting agent, with a wide variety and high concentration of many pigments that have antioxidant properties. These antioxidants are important to counteract free radicals which are implicated in many disease processes. Up to 25 carotenoids have been isolated from the mango fruit, the most concentrated being beta-carotene, a key chemical in the manufacture of vitamin A.
Lupeol is a substance isolated from mango that has been found in laboratory experiments to be effective against certain skin and prostate cancers. Additionally, an extract of the mango bark called Vimang, isolated by Cuban scientists, has also been shown to have cancer fighting capabilities.
The economic potential of mango for us here in Antigua is largely untapped. This is due to several peculiarities in the cultivation, distribution, and consummation pattern of mangoes that we have not been able to exploit. World mango production is approximately 33 million tonnes annually, which accounts for about half of all tropical fruits produced. Of this figure, India produces about 40 percent, but accounts for less than one percent of the world mango trade. This is because most of the mango that India produces is consumed locally.
The current world market is dominated by a variety called Tommy Atkins, cultivated in southern Florida, USA. This mango was initially rejected by Florida researchers as it has a very fibrous flesh and is not very high on the taste metre compared to other varieties such as Julie. However, it has good productivity, disease resistance, shelf-life, transportability, size and colour. More than 80 percent of the mangoes in British supermarkets are Tommy Atkins and it is also the most popular in the US.
The Julie, which is naturally much more desirable than the Tommy Atkins, does not grow well in Florida (because of its susceptibility there to fungal disease), but it grows beautifully in the Caribbean. Here it has the desirable properties of the Atkins and a more desirable taste, without being attacked by Anthracnose or other fungal disease. Therefore, it is up to us to start exploiting the world market.
There are several advantages that we have. In Western Europe and in even certain part of the States, organically grown mangoes are much sought after. Whereas in Florida, huge amounts of artificial chemicals are used in the production of mangoes, this is hardly the case in Antigua. Hence our mangoes would fetch a much higher price on the world market.
Apart from fresh mangoes, there are processed mango products that we could also produce on a larger scale. Mango drinks, jams, jellies, spices, natural food flavouring agents, and dishes can all be produced with our local Antiguan twist. For this to be effective, we would have to develop the idea of agricultural cooperatives. This would not only serve well for mango production, processing, and distribution, but it could also serve as a model for other crops like cotton, pineapple, melon and other fruits that grow so well on our island.
While the concept of the mango festival is a very good one, we need take it from just a festival to an industry. This would not just be a diversification of our tourism product, but also a diversification of our economy in general. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Antigua & Barbuda has more weddings per capita than any other country in the world; we can enhance this niche with the mango themed wedding, in well laid out and manicured gardens and groves of mangoes.
In the promotion of culture and art, the mango can be a catalyst, as we saw with the movie The Sweetest Mango. This can be a wonderful way of introducing our local culture to the world.
So let us start organising the industry so the rest of the world can taste the sweetest mango. And let us stop wasting one of the natural treasures with which the Creator has blessed us