A mango is not just a mango, coined 'king of all fruits' (Purseglove, JW, 1968).

At a recent Macau Patua event, the mango fruit (Chaunsa from Pakistan) was served as part of a dessert, and naturally mango became a topic of discussion. Globally mangoes are immensely popular, eaten both as a fruit and widely used in cuisine. Dedicated mango festivals abound in mango growing countries. Worldwide many hundreds of named mango cultivars exist; most people have a favourite variety and mine is the Alphonso (India), named in honour after Alfonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515) a Portugese fidalgo, eminent naval and military strategist and administrator, conquered and established the Portugese colonial empire in the Indian Ocean . This mango variety is not easy to find in London and have a very short season so when they become available they are like gold nuggets. Why do I favour the Alphonso; the ripening fruit are wonderfully perfumed, the flavour intensely sweet, rich, and full, with multiple aromatic overtones. Fibreless in the melting orange flesh. Tasting notes, invariably: Intense aromatic characteristics of apricot, mint and papaya, with a flavourful, creamy flesh tasting of vanilla and spice. 

The best varieties are almost fibreless, melting in texture, and have rich, luscious, semi-spicy flavours. Fibre content plays an important role in ripe mangoes. Most Indian and southeast Asian varieties have very little fibre compared to the Caribbean, Latin, and Florida state (southeast US) varieties. Little or no fibre makes the fruit more custard-like in texture. Because of their texture, slightly more fibrous mangoes usually have more bite and mouth appeal.

One of our guests that evening Mark U, favoured the Bowen (aka Kensington Pride), which is the most popular variety from his native Australia. I have never heard of Bowen and so thank you Mark U; it is now on my pick list. Also I would like to share with Naomi F, another guest, that there is a new mango cultivar in Israel carrying namesake Naomi.

There is early documentation of the mango and other fruits, and of grafting in the horticultural science of ancient India, and the earliest evidence of agricullture (by Professor Jules Janick) is found in northern China from 5000 to 7000 BCE. Well-known varieties of mango were named after Mohammedans, who were connoisseurs of the mango. In south Asian myth and literature, the mango remains king of fruits. And who could fail to be amused by the pastoral comedies of the great writer William Shakespeare - the wordplay and wit - and in this context, As You Like It, within the famous quote "I'll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar: then it will be the earliest fruit i' th' country: for you'll be rotten ere you be half ripe, and that's the right virtue of the medlar."

Thinking of Florida, am reminded of the Mango Gang originating from Miami from the mid 1980s. Who are the Mango Gang; they are Norman Van AkenAllen SusserMark Militello, and Douglas Rodriquez. Four chefs who, over 20 years ago, put the tropical-accented cuisine of Miami and south Florida on the national culinary map. The Mango Gang are widely acknowledged as the pioneers of New World Cuisine (aka Floribbean cuisine, rightly or wrongly), an innovative blending of American, Caribbean, and Latin flavours. So anyone planning a visit to Florida be sure to check out the respective chefs - they are still cooking! And do not miss Richard Campbell, horticulturist and international mango expert, at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Last, but not least, the Kennedy Space Centre is unmissable; (am fascinated by space exploration and NASA, and the Chinese space program - CNSA).

Forward onto China, I recall the story of Chairman Mao Zedong - Mao's travelling mangoes: Food as relic in revolutionary China, authored by Adam Yuet Chau. Most people are familiar with the history and events of the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, but few know of the year long political 'mango fever' that swept the populace in August, 1968 after the Pakistani foreign minister, in Beijing on a diplomatic trip, gave a crate of mangoes to Chairman Mao. At an opportune time, Mao regifted the mangoes to the Capital Worker and Peasant Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Teams then in the late stages of suppressing the excesses of the student Red Guards at Tsinghua University in what was to prove one of the terminal acts of the Cultural Revolution. Political mango fever hit China in 1968 as images of the fruit entered popular culture. Illustrations and photos of mangoes appeared in publications, paintings, posters, and badges, as well as on everyday objects such as mirrors, quilts, and enamelware. Wax mango models were displayed in glass boxes, printed in red with Mao's quotations, to express respect and esteem for him. The mango imagery appeared for about a year. After 1969, the mango disappeared from the active symbolic repertoire of Chinese politics. 

Mao's Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution, edited by Alfreda Murck, is the catalogue for the self titled exhibition at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich; it reveals the bizarre story of how the mango became a potent and unexpected propaganda symbol, providing both a political message and an object of emotional identification in the late 1960s in China.

Being a cinema aficianado, I was soon alerted of The Fruit Hunters by documentary filmmaker Yung Chang, and actor Bill Pullman (whose film work I like especially his role in Lost Highway by pre-eminent filmmaker David Lynch) put in appearances in The Fruit Hunters; quietly in spare time he works his bountiful orchard in LA, dabbles in horticulture and really likes mangoes.

There is always an abundance of mangoes in my kitchen; off now to whip up a mango lassi (courtesy of Felicity Cloake).