Tropical Fruit

All About Purple Mangosteens

January 25, 2014

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.

All About Purple Mangosteens

Shop the Story

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…”

More: Shakespeare, on the other hand, preferred to write about edibles he didn’t like: Sorry, sea beans and gooseberries.

All About Purple Mangosteens

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • vernon
  • Farha
  • DandeDandelion
  • Anuj Uppal
    Anuj Uppal
  • Jennywren
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


vernon March 16, 2014
There is no other fruit quite like it. Delicious on the inside. Undeniably healthy surrounds. Th pericarp is laced with Xanthones - a high powered antioxidant like no other. Check for yourself with NCBI in USA
Farha January 26, 2014
My grandmother had mangosteen trees growing in her backyard here in Malaysia. I remember plucking and eating the fruits right there in her garden. Sweet!
DandeDandelion January 26, 2014
A lovely fruit available in Sri Lanka too (seasonal), it does stain clothing and can add to a sore throat if over indulged in but otherwise yum!
Anuj U. January 25, 2014
OMG, what a coincidence. I was just remembering today eating these in Thailand. Each one seemed like a rare jewel. And then one day on a trek I saw the jungle floor covered with fallen Mangosteen. It was like a dream.
Jennywren January 25, 2014
I first had mangosteens while living in Singapore and now only enjoy them when traveling to South East Asia. They are my favorite, hands down, tropical fruit. I didn't realize they are now legal in the US. That being said, I'm not sure how well they travel and what effect that traveling has on the fruit- a big risk of freshness and flavor which such time and distance for transport, hence the probable high price tag.
By all means if one is in an area where these fruits are native and available, do try them. They are a treat!
Panfusine January 25, 2014
these are delightful treats. Incidentally a wilder cousin of the mangosteen, the 'kokum' is used extensively in Goan cuisine as a souring agent. In this case its the peel that gets used.
Pork N. January 25, 2014
I have been missing mangosteen since I traveled to Thailand! They are unlike anything else. Delicious.
ATG117 January 25, 2014
A description of how they taste and what they maybe compare to would be great.
billy January 25, 2014
"...they taste / like lips, before they're bitten, a saltiness / washed utterly away; crushed, they release / a flood of unfathomable sweetness, / gone in a trice," says Hall.
Jen! January 25, 2014
My favorite fruit, hands down. I have been known to go through several pounds of them during vacations to tropical locales.
Pegeen January 25, 2014
Lindsay-Jean, thanks - always interesting to learn about another culinary ingredient!
How would you describe their taste?
Lindsay-Jean H. January 27, 2014
I'm going to defer to billy's answer (above). It has such a unique flavor that I could tell you a blend of fruits that I think it's most similar to, someone else could tell you a completely different mix, and I don't think you're left with any better idea of the fruit than you get from Daniel Hall.