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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: We’re escaping winter this month -- in our kitchens, at least -- and exploring tropical fruits. This week, we get to know purple mangosteens.
The purple mangosteen, or simply mangosteen (as it is more commonly called), is hard to come by in the U.S.; this tropical fruit has only been legally coming into the country for under a decade. Prior to 2007, it was banned due to concerns of bringing hitchhiking insects into the country. It seems their prohibition only increased their appeal -- mangosteens have quite the reputation. They’re touted as a “superfruit” and “superfood,” and purported to have all manner of health benefits and healing properties.
Praise doesn't come only from health zealots and food enthusiasts, though -- writers rhapsodize about their charms too. The mangosteen shows up in poetry from writers as diverse as Jack Prelutsky and Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps our favorite work dedicated to the mangosteen (Can you tell we have a thing for food poetry?) comes from Daniel Hall, beginning: “These are the absolute top of the line, / I was telling him, they even surpass / the Jiangsu peach and the McIntosh / for lusciousness and subtlety…”
How to Find, Select, and Store
Peak mangosteen season is in the heat of the summer, but they can be found at other times of the year as well. Your best bet is to look in Asian markets, but you can buy fresh mangosteens online too. Take note though: With the mangosteen’s short shelf life, most retailers require overnight shipping, so it could be an expensive taste test. Then again, maybe it’s worth it to try one of this year's predicted “trendy” foods.
Choose deeply-colored specimens that are firm, yield slightly to pressure, and still have their caps -- the stem and sepals (1) -- attached. Keep them in the refrigerator, but use them quickly -- within a few days.
How to Prep
Before you start prepping your mangosteen, place bets with people (make sure they haven’t eaten a mangosteen before) that you can tell them how many segments will be inside the fruit before you open it. Don't worry, this bet is a sure thing. Just flip the mangosteen over and look at the raised flower-like pattern on the bottom of the fruit, and start counting. The number of “petals” will correspond with the number of segments (2) inside of the fruit. This information is more than just a party trick: The higher the number the better, because you’ll likely have more seed-free sections to enjoy.
To get into your mangosteen, take a small sharp knife and make a shallow cut (about 1/4 inch deep or so) around the equator of the fruit. Hold the bottom of the fruit in your palm and twist off the top half to expose the aril sections (you know, like the arils in a pomegranate). The segments should be an opaque creamy white (4); any that are yellow are discolored from resin and will be bitter. Alternatively, press them gently until the peel pops and loosens, and peel them that way. The port wine-colored peel (3) is generally considered inedible and discarded, but is sometimes used in juice.
How to Use
To enjoy your mangosteen, grab your prepped mangosteen and a tiny fork, and savor the segments one at a time while imagining a tropical beach. The best way to eat a mangosteen is straight up. Of course, if you happen to have more mangosteens than you know what to do with, you can call us -- or juice them to use in cocktails and desserts, or even in savory dishes, like a curry or stir-fry.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy mangosteens? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom