The Miraculous Mangosteen*
*With apologies to Bela Bartok
Six years ago, the New York Times ran a story on an exotic fruit called the mangosteen. The author waxed rhapsodic about the incredible taste of this Asian beauty that was unavailable in the US. I've craved one ever since. My recent trip to Malaysia represented my first opportunity to try them. At the risk of sounding like a 14-year-old girl, OMG, OMG, OMG!
Mangosteens are about the size of tennis balls. The outer skin has a very similar texture and toughness to that of a pomegranate. It's inedible- the delicious part lies hidden within. The blossom scar on the bottom is lobed, and the number of lobes corresponds to the number of segments of the inner fruit. Mangosteens are challenging to eat. The outer, inedible flesh is red, and it's juice stains. The inner fruit is very sticky and juicy, but the whole thing is so incredibly worthwhile that this hardy merits mentioning.
The segments of the inner fruit separate like those of a citrus, which is not even remotely related. The largest, (or occasionally two largest, as in this photo) segment contains a single seed, which is surrounded by a rich, fragrant and flavorful jelly. The smaller segments consist of the jellylike pulp with no seed.
I can't begin to describe the flavor. It's sweet and scented, though not cloying. There is no tartness like one might find in a kiwi, yet there's a bright, refreshing quality to the flavor. And, like the kiwi, it's tempting to describe the flavor as a combination of other fruits- yet in the end, it just tastes like mangosteen. I've waited six years to try this, and it lived up to expectations.
The other interesting fruit that I sampled on my trip was the rambutan, a relative of the lychee. The leathery skin is coated with pliable spines, that aren't at all sharp. The skin is easily ripped open with the fingers.
The white fruit within is about twice the size and the same texture as a peeled grape. There is a single seed within.
Rambutans are much easier to eat than mangosteens. Sweet and juicy, they are delicious in their own right, though they lack the startling complexity of flavor of the latter fruit.