Wandering through Cayman’s farmers’ markets or grocery aisles, you may have noticed an exciting addition to the usual fruit and veg on display: ripe local mangos.
With sweet, juicy, vibrant flesh that seems to embody the Caribbean sunshine, these are certainly a contender for the island’s favorite fruit. And mango season, running through June and July, is greeted happily by local chefs and foodies.
“It’s always a big thing in our household,” says Brittanni Seymour, pastry chef and owner of Scratch Gourmet Desserts Ltd. “Growing up, my grandmother had a huge tree my cousins and I would climb. We would stay in the tree for most of the day eating one mango after another. Stomachaches to follow.”
Today, she has a mango tree in her own backyard and uses its fruit in many of her desserts, including a mango sticky toffee pudding. “I have to be careful though, as my mom always takes the green mangos off the tree before they even have a chance to ripen to make a big bowl of mango salad – it’s literally a bowl of cut up sour green mango that sits in a marinade that consists of vinegar, seasoned salt and black pepper. So good!”
Cayman grows many varieties of mangos, which vary dramatically in size, texture and color.
“I love to get the first few sneaky Nam Docs, Jakarta and Julie, the elusive, delightfully fragrant No. 11,” says Britta Bush of vegan food company Saucha Conscious Living. “I’ve also come to love the late season mangos, like the Valencia Pride.”
Spot a long, pointy, yellow-skinned variety? It’s likely to be Nam Doc. Tiny and deep red with dark orange flesh and ambrosia flavor? That’s the Julie, an eating (not cooking) variety. Huge, bright orange Jakartas, on the other hand, are excellent for baking in cobblers and crumbles.
We eat mangos because they taste delicious – but the good news is they are great for our health, too. They are rich in potassium, magnesium and immune-boosting vitamins, low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. One cup of sliced ripe mango supplies 25 percent of an adult’s daily recommended dose of vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight and has antioxidant properties. They contain even more vitamin C pound-for-pound than an orange.
Mangos are also a great source of pectin, a soluble dietary fiber that efficiently contributes to lower cholesterol levels in the blood and may help prevent the development of prostate cancer, according to researchers from the University of Georgia.
In traditional medicine, parts of the mango have been used to help with everything from diabetes to heatstroke.
Matches made in heaven
One of the reasons Cayman cooks love mangos is their incredible versatility, bringing natural flavor to both sweet and savory dishes.
“They’re great in anything from creamy cheesecakes to fiery salsa to mind-blowing cocktails,” says Bush. “My favorite ingredient combinations are mango and passion fruit, mango and mint, or mango and scotch bonnet.”
For Seymour, they are perfection with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, but she also recommends pairing with a pinch of black pepper and nutmeg to bring out the flavor: “I sometimes sneak these into my desserts.”
Making chutneys are a fantastic way to prolong the mango mania year-round, or you can freeze your chopped, peeled mango in a Ziploc bag. Some people swear by dipping raw mango into a salty vinegar dipping sauce, which contrasts perfectly with the juicy sweetness of the fruit. Whizz them into a juice or smoothie, top your morning bowl of yogurt and granola, add onto your barbecue skewers, scatter over pancakes or toss through a salad.
Of course, in many a Caymanian’s eyes you simply cannot beat homemade mango jam spread on fresh warm bread.
How to prep mango like a local professional
- Look for mangos that smell pleasantly fragrant and yield slightly to gentle pressure.
- Position the mango vertically on a chopping board so the pointed end faces you.
- Slice downwards to remove one mango cheek, using a serrated edge knife to guide around the stone in the middle. Turn mango around and repeat on the other side.
- Score a lattice into the cheeks with the tip of your knife.
- Turn the mango over and gently push out the flesh. Cut away the chunks of flesh from the skin.
- Follow the curve of the stone to cut away the remaining flesh on both sides. Score along the pieces with a knife then run the knife along the skin to release the pieces.