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May 22, 2017

Welcome to Mango Season in Hawai‘i

Gouveia. Pope. Momi K. Pirie. Zill. Haden. Joe Welch. No, it's not the starting lineup for the UH Warriors men's volleyball team. These monikers refer to the top tasting mango cultivars in Hawai'i.

Mangoes may not be one of the regaled 24 canoe plants that ocean-voyaging Polynesian settlers brought to Hawaii more than 1,500 years ago, but the beloved mango does hold court on the pantheon of noteworthy introductions to the islands that have been absorbed into our culture. Today, the mango is as local as rubber slippers, SPAM musubi, or the ukulele. Mango trees are a staple in yards across the state and during mango season—which runs from June through August—locally grown mangoes are a commodity at farmers markets and local restaurants. They're also in value-added goods like mango bread, pickled mango, dried mango dusted in li hing mui, and, perhaps the greatest thing ever: mango shave ice.

Researchers from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa have been experimenting with mango cultivars since the 1960s and note that the first mango trees were brought from Manila, Philippines to Hawai'i by Captain Meek of the brig Kamehameha in 1824. He gave a few small mango trees to Don Marin, a Spanish horticulturist in Honolulu, and Reverend Joseph Goodrich, a missionary in Wailuku, Maui. In 1825, a few more mango trees from Valparaiso, Chile arrived in Honolulu aboard the British Navy frigate, H.M.S. Blonde.

Hawai'i's semi-tropical climate, with plenty of warm, sunny and relatively dry terrain, especially on south and western shores, is ideal for many species of mangoes. It's safe to say that mango trees love Hawai'i as much as hungry island kids love to devour the sweet, juicy fruit. The mango quickly spread across the state and is now ubiquitous in yards and in the wild. The dark green leaves, rough fissured bark and far-flung branches of mature mango trees are common on Honolulu trails, along roadsides, and in pastures and marginal lands throughout the state.

I feel like the mango is almost a way of life as I was growing up. We waited every year for mango season to come.


Russell Siu, Kaka‘ako Kitchen

Siu's childhood fondness for tree-ripe mangoes only fueled his curiosity to find new and inventive ways to incorporate the mango into his cooking, at Kaka'ako Kitchen as well at home. "The Pirie, Haden and Chinese mango are very versatile fruits that can be used in an appetizer, an entrée, a dessert, or eaten anytime as a snack," Siu says. "I like my mangoes freshly picked, nice and ripe, or half ripe with shoyu vinegar and black pepper. The Shibata mango is one of my favorites."

While imported mangoes are available all year long, Hawai'i's fascination with locally grown mangoes and our nostalgia for mango season are a seasonal call for celebration. Get all the mangoes you can handle at one of the annual mango festivals during the summer. On O'ahu, check out the 9th annual Mangoes at the Moana festival at the Moana Surfrider in Waikiki and Mango Jam Honolulu at Honolulu Hale in Downtown Honolulu. The Sheraton Kona on the Big Island hosts the Mango Festival and on Kaua'i, you can eat and drink mango at the Waipa Music and Mango Festival on the north shore.

This mango season, do yourself a favor and try something new. Take a ripe mango and put it in the freezer. Once it's frozen, place the mango so the disc-shaped seed is parallel to the knife and cut off both sides of the mango, discarding the seed. Now take a spoon and dig into the soft, creamy pulp as it thaws. It's nature's ice cream.

Looking for a mango recipe? Check out Food.com's Mango Bread.

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