Before you can say a word about mangosteens, it is worth noting that they are arch-feigners. About the size of a mandarin orange, round and slightly flattened at each end, they come with a thick, leathery rind in the kind of rich, deep purple that bishops admire. Piled up in baskets at the market, they are strangely handsome if poorly dressed fruits, with a rugged, roughed-up aspect crowned with a particularly gauche mop-top and nothing at all that might indicate the elegance and sublime deliciousness within. The unwitting might easily pass over them for the showier (all faux furs and cheap lipstick) dragon fruit in the next basket along, which would be a terrible mistake as both fruits are a ripe demonstration of the adage that one should never judge a book by its cover.
To get into one of these mangosteens, more properly called purple mangosteen, you can either take a sharp knife and cut around the centre, only going as deep as the rind, before splitting the whole in two. Or, and more fun, carefully squeeze the fruit so as to rupture the rind so you can peel it back to reveal the treasure inside as the flesh bleeds pink over your fingers. This is where the magic begins, for even people who don’t particularly like fruit love mangosteens.
Inside that bleeding rind you’ll find wedges of the purest, snow white fruit that is quite unlike anything else you’ve ever tasted: sweet, flowery, juicy and sour with a tannic edge that dries your mouth yet invariably leaves you aching for more. There are usually between four and eight pieces in all, no bigger that garlic cloves, and if you want to make some easy money, you can take bets on how many are inside before opening the fruit. The answer can be counted in the number of ‘petals’ on the stigma at the base.
All kinds of health benefits are associated with mangosteens, but if you’re eating them for that then you’re eating them for the wrong reasons, and anyway most of the beneficial nutrients and poly-things are to be found in the leathery rind rather than the fruity flesh within. If you really want to get some health benefits out of polishing off a basketful of purple magic, then you could make tea with the rind as is commonly done in Southeast Asia. That rich purple colour is a strong indicator of the presence of polyphenols which are renowned for their anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Given the delicate nature of the fruit, few are uncouth enough to suggest cooking with it, which is a relief. However, we can’t help wondering how mangosteen juice might go down in a vodka martin. And as the season has just kicked in, now is probably the best time go out and find out.