A whole world of mangos allows us to enjoy a fresh supply any time of year, but the spring and summer months provide a unique opportunity for innovative chefs. We're coming up on the peak season for mangos, a good time to really have some fun with the most popular fruit in the world.
The available mango crop will multiply over the next few weeks, as six major source countries — Mexico, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic — commence their export season. Popular varieties of Mexican mango include Tommy Atkins, Ataulfo, Haden, and Kent, with their peak season stretching from March through the end of September. The season for Haiti’s Francis mangos began in mid-March and will end in mid-August, with the historical season peak lasting from April to July. The U.S. will receive mangos from these countries throughout the summer.
Demand is growing for the tropical flavor that mangos deliver. Since 2005, mango consumption per capita in the U.S. has increased 32 percent. Americans each consumed an estimated 2.47 pounds in 2012.
Because of its heady aroma, appealing colors, sweet taste, and high nutritional value, fresh mango is making an appearance on more and more menus across the U.S.
Summer salad menus
Chef Allen Susser of Burger Bar, known to many as “The Mango Man,” recommends entrée salads as a good introduction to fresh mango on spring and summer menus. “Customers crave refreshing, flavorful menu offerings in spring and summer, as we shed the lusty, warm flavors so common on winter menus,” he says. In addition to protein, which defines salad entrées, consumers are looking for healthful fresh fruit and vegetables across the menu.
Marie Callender's Restaurant & Bakery likes to use its menu to profile the best flavors each season has to offer. “Our Citrus Mango Chicken Salad is a perfect springtime entrée made with fresh ripe mangos, gorgonzola cheese, caramelized walnuts, dried cranberries, and mandarin oranges to create a harmonious balance of flavors,” says Julee Ferguson, Senior Director of Marketing and Food & Beverage for Marie Callender's. “Since most of our restaurants are in California, creating a refreshing and seasonal salad with fresh mangos seemed like a natural fit for our spring menu.”
Salads appeal to customers of all ages, and the current taste among diners for spice and heat has paved the way for Latin American, Middle-Eastern, Southwestern, and Asian-themed salads. “Mango has a big personality — sweet, lush, and rich — that carries spice while standing on its own in a salad,” Susser says. “Mangos are native to many of these tropical countries with the cuisines that customers want to try in restaurants.”
Asian cuisine and culture expert Chef Robert Danhi uses green mango in his Thai-inspired Green Mango and Cashew Salad. Fresh mango, like the pear, is harvested when mature, but not yet fully ripened.
Mangos can be enjoyed at all points along the ripeness spectrum, from crisp and tart-sweet to soft, sweet, and ultra-juicy. A slightly firmer ripe mango works well when a salad calls for grilled fruit (caramelized mango is delicious!) or when preparing cooked toppings. Very ripe mangos are best for salad dressings, offering maximum flavor and aroma. Gently press a mango to determine the level of ripeness — color is not an indicator.
As a salad component, mango brightens the overall flavor and becomes part of the sugar and acid equation. When you use very ripe mango in the dressing, you need less fat because of the particular feel of pureed fruit on the palate. For example, Chef Ehrline Karnaga served Mango Quinoa Salad at Valhalla Table in Costa Mesa, California. Her fresh mango dressing combines the flavors of mango, citrus, rice vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, neutral canola oil, and optional red pepper flakes.
The crowning touch
When adding fresh mango to your menu, the first option that might come to mind is salsa. It's an easy way to add a signature tropical fruit flavor to an entrée or small plate.
Using fresh mango as a topping, however, can lead to flavorful results. Tony Roma’s has featured mango in its Citrus Glazed Mahi Mahi — seared mahi glazed with citrus ponzu sauce, topped with fresh cucumber, mango, and cilantro, presented on a bed of broccoli wasabi slaw.
The Breadfruit in Phoenix, Arizona combines thin slices of mango with red snapper inside its Crispy Mango Fish Rolls. The dish is served with a dollop of house-made Jamaican-seasoned mango chutney.
As a visual element, fresh mango can add tropical appeal and a note of surprise to breakfast, beverage, and dessert menus. Karen Gorrell, chef consultant for the National Mango Board, developed Sparkling Fresh Mango Green Tea — with a mall-diced mango topping stirred into it.
Flavor-seeking diners will be equally pleased to see fresh mango added to your cheesecake, sundaes, and dessert specials. Pastry Chef Francis Ang of Fifth Floor in San Francisco takes his desserts to an unexpected extreme, featuring multiple textures and layered flavors. For his Mango Coconut Dessert Risotto, he tops coconut-infused risotto with a cookie crumble, tamarind glass, ribbons of fresh mango, and mango chili jam.
Across the globe, approximately 1000 mango varieties have been discovered and given names. It's a testament to their wide-ranging appeal.
“Mangos are magnificent for cooking,” Susser says. “The fruit can absorb spice, heat, and fire with no loss of character, yet can be icy and refreshing.” Familiarizing yourself with the mango’s characteristics can certainly help you enhance dishes. They're a great tool for achieving a balance of contrasting flavors.