Craze for Alphonso
India is home to a number of mango varieties. Come summers and markets are flooded with the fruit. It is consumed in many forms. The raw fruit is used to make pickles and chutneys. It is also used to make a refreshing drink to ward off the effects of summer heats. The drink is called Aam Panah. When it ripens, it is used for eating in desserts, it’s pulp is crushed to make mango concentrates, it thick juice called Aam Ras is eaten with indian food. Even its stones are dried and inside material is used in many medicines. The mango tree is considered so auspicious that it’s leaves are used in holy ceremonies by Hindus.
The fruit comes in many varieties in size and shape and skin color. I remember in my days of childhood, we had two mango trees in our land. Both were so diverse with one being a giant spread in large area but it’s fruits were very small. When the ripening season began, the fruits will begin to fall to the ground and soon the whole ground beneath shall be littered with fruits. The collected fruits were washed and put into cool water for quenching their latent heat and then sucked as such. Many birds like crows and parrots gorged on the fruit in the boughs. The other tree was small in size but fruits were bigger.
The weakness for the fruit is universal. It is very rich in minerals, sugars and vitamins. It is loved by people world over. History tells how the arrangements were made to send the fruit from India to England for the royalty.
Out of so many varieties available in India, Alphonso which is grown in Ratnagiri district of Maharastra, parts of Gujarat and Karnataka is considered to be the king. It is called Hapus in Maharastra. Most of it is exported. Rich people in Mumbai make the bookings to get the fruit in priority. There has been a craze among the people for the fruit.
Times of India article writes , “Mangoes feature in perhaps the earliest printed reference to the name of the islands on which the city was built. This was in the Portuguese naturalist Garcia de Orta’s Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, a fascinating book written in the form of dialogues between Orta and a friend (and one of the first printed in India, in Goa in 1563). At one point the conversation is interrupted by a servant boy who tells Orta his tenant in Bombaim, the island whose lease Orta was given as a sinecure, has just sailed in with a basket of mangoes to give the governor of Goa. Orta happily uses this as a chance to expound on the wonders of mangoes and when his servant says he will send them to the governor, he hastily interjects: “Give them here. They ought to be cut with a sharp knife that the slice may not be injured and I want to taste them first…” Mumbaikars would sympathise. There is no better gift than mangoes in season, yet it is just natural for givers to feel a pang at the pleasures given up. The variety Orta received from Bombay is not known and perhaps it is unlikely they were Alphonsos, the only kind many Mumbaikars bother with today. These were probably developed in Goa, where the Portuguese had introduced the grafting techniques needed for good mangoes, but it is unknown if this had happened in Garcia de Orta’s time.
They were well known by the time of the Rising of 1857. The Times of India, looking back at it 17 years later, in a long piece printed on November 13, 1874, wondered how Nana Saheb, the Peshwa prince, had became one of the leaders: “Up to 1857 there was no Prince better known in these parts… he used to be the boon companion of British officers, to who he gave the finest cherry brandy, and Alphonso mangoes brought up by special dak from Bombay.
A more nuanced view of that statement from 1937 would confirm they are the best for export since they have thick skin and withstand transportation better than fabled local varieties such as Tamil Nadu’s Imam Pasands or Goa’s Mankhurados, both wonderful, but poor travellers. The well-established systems for growing, trading and transporting them from the Konkan have also helped make Alphonsos the best mangoes that are relatively easy to get across India and abroad.
Such subtleties though are lost in Mumbai. For many consumers here, Alphonsos are all that matter, with other locally available varieties such as Pairis and Badamis being dismissed as good for juice only. Due to this reason, many producers use chemicals especially calcium carbide to artificially ripen the fruit early and get very high returns. The chemical is known to be carcinogenic.
Thus, people are buying fruits which are potentially dangerous and paying higher price also. The naturally ripened fruit has aroma and taste which is lost in the artificial ripening process. The taste becomes bland.
In our childhood days there were no artificial methods available for ripening the fruit and also no faster transportation means for getting the fruits from far distances. So whatever was available was in the natural form.