Mango purists (and I count myself among them) will rant about which mangoes are best until the cows come home. We’re pretty unanimous in our hatred for that hard red football known as Tommy Atkins, the variety that most often passes for “mango” in these parts, especially in the off-season, in the way that Macs or Golden Delicious tend to be what most people think of as an apple, neglecting the hundreds of other varieties.
In my local supermarket lately, there has actually been an assortment of mangoes. Old Tommy Atkins is there, but as mangoes are in-season right now in the Caribbean (the season in India, specifically for Alphansos finished in early June), there were a trio of options. Since it’s rare to find so many varieties all in the same place – at least here in Toronto – we bought one of each to compare.
Mango #1: Ataulfo, Mexico – Ataulfos come into season starting in February or March. They’re flavourful and sweet, with a true “mango” taste, and are consistently firm without being either stringy or mushy. They stand up well to cooking and work well in mango chutney because they hold their shape.
Mango #2: Alphanso, Caribbean – We think of Alphansos as only growing in India, but they are grown in other temperate climates as well. This varietal is known for its flowery perfume, and a box from India can overpower a small kitchen with its exotic smell. This variety tends to ripen very quickly, so there’s a limited window where they’re perfect to eat, after which they’re better off pureed and made into smoothies or lassies.
Mango #3: Julie, Caribbean – I had never heard of this variety before and was inspired by a woman in the supermarket aisle who swore up and down that it was the best mango I’d ever eat. The variety, also known as the Saint Julian mango is green-skinned and flat on one side.
Cutting all three open, the difference in the colour of the flesh is obvious. The Alphanso (middle) is the most orange of the 3 and was starting to get soft spots on one side, while the Julie (right) is quite pale, and reminiscent of the Tommy Atkins. It’ s also got some obvious stringy sections in the flesh.
The taste test: Both Greg and I agreed that the Alphanso was our favourite – there’s just something about the spicy perfume and overwhelming flavour of this variety, there are almost notes of spice on the tongue – that make it a winner. Our choice might have been swayed slightly by the fact that much of the crop from India this year was less than stellar and the box of Alphansos we bought in Little India a few weeks previous had been really disappointing. We were just happy to finally have a good one, even if the Caribbean ones are not quite as flavourful as the ones from India.
For our second choice, though, we disagreed. I preferred the Mexican Ataulfo for the consistent flesh, bright colour and fresh but not over-powering scent. I found the Julie to be a bit bland and stringy. It was still sweet, but in what I can only describe as a pretty way (maybe even with notes of vanilla), compared to the knee-weakening (almost sexy) flavour and scent of the Alphanso, or the all round middle range flavour of the Ataulfo. Greg preferred the Julie though, in part because it was light and pretty and quite different from the others.
What’s cool about this whole thing is that we got to try 3 different types side by side and compare. Alphanso is always going to be a mango for eating out of hand, letting the fragrant juice drip down your chin – a real icon of springtime. Ataulfo is a nice runner up for me, and my go-to mango for jam or chutney. I’d try the Julie again if I came across it, but I’d almost reserve it for baking, I think, using it somewhere that the consistency wouldn’t matter if it cooked down a bit and where a blend of flavours wouldn’t suit something strong like the Alphanso.
In retrospect, I should have bought a hard, pale, bitter Tommy Atkins mango to act as a baseline for comparison, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not when my other choices were as flavourful and interesting as the varieties above.