The tropical mangosteen has achieved mythical status over the centuries, in the sense that its rarity and deliciousness has inspired all manner of dubious hoo-ha. First there was the apparently apocryphal tale of Queen Victoria offering a bounty on fresh mangosteens, supposedly inspiring its nickname, “the queen of fruit.” Today all sorts of pills, powders, and juices from the fruit are marketed–dubbed “processed whole mangosteen products,” or “PMPs,” by this skeptical farmer–with promises to cure a raft of ailments from depression to vertigo.
Possibly contributing to, if not enabling, this embarrassment of misinformation has been a longstanding USDA ban on the import of mangosteens, for fear of the fruit flies that might tag along. You can find canned (and occasionally frozen) mangosteens in various Asian markets, and reports of contraband fresh fruit in New York’s Chinatown have only increased their allure. (Anybody ever find them in Chicago?) The good news is that this Monday our government is set to begin allowing the importation of irradiated Thai mangosteens (and pineapples, rambutans, lychees, and longans).
I’m certainly not immune to mangosteen hype, which is why I recently grabbed a bag of freeze-dried mangosteens at Trader Joe’s (pictured here with TJ rambutans). The resealable bags are filled with fruit reduced to something like sweet packing peanuts encasing an edible seed. They’re infuriatingly ephemeral, almost like cotton candy in their insubstantiality. It takes almost nine ounces of fresh fruit to produce the 1.5 freeze-dried ounces, boasts the bag, and yet I don’t feel grateful.
I hereby offer the rest of the bag (and the rambutans) as reward for the first to spot fresh mangosteens in Chicago.