"Alphonso is an overrated mango". While conversing with his friends about the character of different mangoes, this is what a north Indian mango farmer says with a stern face. This statement can be easily understood as some sort of sweeping remark triggered by competitive envy, and it may offend his counterparts in Maharashtra, the native state of Alphonso. However, there is a larger concern within his criticism.
He has a strong desire to tell stories of the beloved mangoes that often remain unheard or are overlooked. In fact, much like this North Indian farmer, many people in India want the mangoes of their region to get the attention and recognition they deserve. When it comes to Alphonso overshadowing other varieties in the national discourse, his anguish is genuine.
The Many Varieties of Mangoes
There are one and a half thousand varieties of mangoes in India, each representing a very different taste, texture, and colour to one another.
What is most intriguing is that approximately 300 varieties of mangoes can be found on a single tree by the wonder of grafting, an experiment a UP farmer, Kaleem Ullah Khan, successfully carried out. The inability to look at mangoes beyond Alphonso is puzzling.
Rich in fibre and pulp, with a sharply curved tip, Chaunsa is one of the distinguished varieties harvested in late summer and widely consumed in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
A mango variety from South India known as Safeda starts to arrive quite early in March. Slightly tangy in taste, it has the potential to feed a growing number of consumers who enjoy sour mangoes.
Dasheri is one of the most consumed mangoes in India, easily available in nearby fruit carts – though its name may be unknown to buyers. Its various hybrid forms such as Amrapali and Mallika have earned great praise.
Commercialisation and Its Adverse Impact
A significant number of delicious varieties are rejected simply because they fail commercial viability. They are either oddly shaped, happen to be low-yield or turn perishable. Even if these may not be true, and the varieties fit all market criteria, one wonders why they are yet to find their true value. Therefore, many are typically grown for personal use; farmers send these mangoes in gift boxes to family and friends.
One of them is Gulab Khaas, a mango streaked with a fascinating combination of three colours: yellow, green, and red.
Addictive in taste, and pleasantly distinctive in smell, it lives up to its expectations to such a large degree that it earns lifetime admirers at the first bite. It flaunts itself in the orchard, becoming easy prey to stone pelting by children, while other varieties remain free from attack. Due to its charm, the tree requires high security, and heavy patrolling since it is easily visible from a great distance.
There is a gigantic variety called Fazli whose raw form is edible, tasting sour and slightly sweet. But unfortunately, this raw form never reaches the market for domestic use such as chutney, salads, and other purposes.
How Does India Eat its Mangoes?
Real mango fanatics don't confine themselves to the varieties perfect enough to be eaten in a sophisticated way.
With no shirt on, a bucket filled with water and flabby mangoes in front, they take mangoes one by one, squeeze them with their fingers, tear off a bit of their skin, and suck on them. When half is remaining, they start eating like animals. They discover that nothing could be more enjoyable than slurping them in a barbaric fashion.
There are hundreds of remarkable mangoes grown perfectly to be sucked on. Among those are Anwar Ratol and Malda – both small in size and sweet in taste. This oval-shaped mango did not only earn its fanaticism in the rest of India, but also far-reaching borders.
After a ban on the import of mangoes in the US and UK, the Indian diaspora, nostalgic about their indigenous mangoes, was ready to purchase even a few by smuggling them in.
Regional Mangoes and Their Importance
From a business point of view, mangoes are a rich commodity. Therefore, they can be used in new foods, beverages, recipes, and medicines.
Supporting all regional varieties rather than a few would not only rescue the orphaned mangoes from alienation but also help their producers across the country earn a living in the adverse impacts of climate change.
Whether it is the changing climate, harsh storms, theft, or pesticide attacks, mangoes are cherished, shown through the sweat and toil of the farmers. Every mango available in the market is precious.
From mid-June onwards, India will be witnessing the mango season in the Northern region.
One could hope that other mangoes would also be noticed. Of course, the right strategy is required to bring underappreciated varieties to the market to ensure equal distribution.
The government should facilitate farmers in shipping mangoes on a larger scale to the market abroad, which would create newer opportunities for farmers.
Currently, farmers lack facilities such as cold storage, hot water treatment plants, credible information and guidance – all of which are required to make mangos exportable, and to make their business a lucrative one.
(Sadan Khan is based out of UP, and calls himself an occasional poet. This is a personal blog. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)