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Feeling the love as mango spices up many dishes

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Beautiful Botanicals by Joanne Howdle


The mango, (Mangifera indica) is a member of the Anacardiaceae family of flowering plants. The mango tree is considered indigenous to Southern Asia, especially Myanmar and the Assam states of India.

The botanical is evergreen, often reaching 15-18 metres in height. The leaves of the mango tree are lanceolate, up to 30 centimetres long, whilst the flowers are small, pinkish, and fragrant and borne in large terminal panicles (loose clusters).

Some of the flowers of the mango tree have both stamens and pistils, while others have stamens only. The fruit of the botanical varies greatly in size and character.

The smallest mangoes are no larger than plums, while others may weigh 1.8 to 2.3 kilograms. Some mangos are vividly coloured with shades of red and yellow, while others are dull green.

The single large seed of the botanical is flattened, and the flesh that surrounds it is yellow to orange in colour, juicy, and of distinctive sweet-spicy flavour.

The common name of the botanical is most likely derived from the word manna which comes from Malayalam, a Dravidian language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala. The Portuguese who were the first to establish a mango trade in Kerala in 1498 changed manna to manga.

The cultivation of mangoes is as old as the birth of agriculture as we know it. There is archaeological evidence that the mango tree was growing and its fruit eaten in India circa 5000 years ago.

Mango seeds travelled with humans from Asia to the Middle East, East Africa and South America beginning circa 300-400 AD. However, probably because of the difficulty in transporting mango seeds (they retain their viability for a short time only), the mango tree was not widely introduced into the Western Hemisphere until the 17th century when Spanish explorers transported mango seeds to Mexico and other parts of South America.

Most of the mangos that are sold in shops today are grown near the equator in South American countries such as Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.

The mango is present in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The best-known myth concerns Kama, the Hindi god of erotic love, desire, pleasure and beauty, and the protagonist of the Kama Sutra – the Principles of Love, an ancient Indian Hindu text relating to sexuality and emotional fulfilment in life. In the book, Kama instils love in the hearts of the gods and men by shooting arrows soaked in mango blossom oil.

Traditional medicine utilises mangos as the botanical is rich in vitamins A, B and C and important mineral salts such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

The botanical also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is a powerful diuretic and contains beta-carotene and therefore stimulates the production of melanin. Mango seeds and the bark of the mango tree are used in traditional medicine to treat anemia; bleeding gums; coughs; constipation; diphtheria; fever; hiccups; insomnia; nausea; physical fatigue; rheumatism, sea sickness and stress.

Mango is a versatile fruit and is a wonderful ingredient with which to make refreshing smoothies, ice cream and sorbets and to add a coolness and sweetness to a salad, as well as being a wonderful ingredient in cakes and spicy curry sauces, chutney, and in fish and chicken dishes.

When mango is used as a botanical in the manufacture of gin, vodka and tequila it adds a sweet, somewhat tart taste to the spirit. Some distillers will use mangos before they reach traditionally ripe levels to add a tart, sweet taste to their spirits. Mango is also used extensively as an ingredient in cocktails.

• Joanne Howdle is interpretation and engagement manager at the multi-award-winning Dunnet Bay Distillers Ltd.

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