The mango underclass
As Alphonso growers argue over GI tags, Lounge takes a look at some less glamorous but delicious varieties
The summertime abundance of the so-called king of mangoes, the Alphonso, or Hapoos, is nearly matched by the applications filed around the fruit (aam in Hindi, also a homograph for “ordinary") at the Indian patent office in Mumbai. It has given rise to both inter- and intra-state debates. The mango farmers of Maharashtra have been at loggerheads with neighbouring Karnataka for using the name Alphonso. Within Maharashtra, in the districts of Raigad, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, it has been a race for the most authentic Alphonso.
Some semblance of peace descended on 19 April, when the undoubtedly harried Geographical Indication (GI) registrar gave all the mangoes from Maharashtra’s Konkan region the right to use the names Alphonso or Hapoos. There is some irony in the fact that all this hullabaloo is for a name borrowed from a sullen-faced 16th century Portuguese general, Afonso de Albuquerque, who conquered Goa and paved the way for the colonization of India by European imperialists.
While this might be India’s most exported variety of mango, the excitement about the Alphonso, and the tag “king of mangoes", is limited to Maharashtra. For if you think mango, the first variety that comes to mind is the one you grew up eating in hot summer months. The taste of each mango would vary, depending on climate and terrain. According to the National Horticulture Board, India cultivates over 1,500 varieties, and the total production in FY17 was 18.6 million tonnes. This makes India the largest producer of the fruit, growing over 50% of the world’s mangoes.
China even sent out a mango sapling into space last year in an effort to create a more superior and disease-resistant fruit. Pakistan and Bangladesh keenly track patent issues, as several varieties are common between these two countries and India and a first name or prefix is often added to distinguish the fruit’s nationality. Rataul, for example, has been subject to a tug of war between India and Pakistan. This small and fragrant mango from Rataul village in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district, produced in limited quantities, is rare in big city markets. Its Pakistani counterpart, known as the Anwar Rataul, is grown in Multan, and there is a story about the late Zia-ul-Haq, then Pakistan president, gifting then prime minister Indira Gandhi a box of these in 1982. It created quite a stir among Rataul farmers here.
Lounge turns the spotlight on some other regional favourites which could arguably give the Alphonso a run for its name and money.
The poetic-sounding mango is common to the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. It is believed to have been a favourite of the Mughal emperors, especially Humayun, and some believe the current moniker has evolved from “Humayun’s Pasand". Available during a short spell between May-June, this large green-yellow thin-skinned mango is equal parts sweet, sour and piquant.
One mango which has led to cross-border debates is the large and juicy Fazli, popular in both West Bengal and Bangladesh. Rajshahi, in Bangladesh, was originally a larger region that contained West Bengal’s Malda district, and, since terroir rarely conforms to political divisions, the Fazli continues to thrive on both sides of the border. When India certified these mangoes with a GI tag, Bangladesh also staked its claim. Despite these disputes, the Fazli has little recall value outside this region.
Native to Kerala, the Chandrakaran trees, with their clusters of low-hanging fruit, used to grow wild across the state. Today it is less ubiquitous but still popular. The Chandrakaran mango is eaten both raw and in a range of dishes, especially the traditional Mambazha Pulissery, a savoury yogurt and coconut curry made with ripened mangoes.
The summer months of May and June in Bihar are made bearable by the blushing Gulab Khas mangoes. The fibreless mango, with its floral undertones, is best had chilled and scooped straight out of the skin. Its brief presence in the market and short shelf life means it is all the more coveted among those who have partaken of its wonderful bouquet of flavours.