The Alfonso mango & Albuquerque

It is mango season again and we had Raji talk to us about that some days ago in her blog. Here in California, we get the Manila and Mexican varieties, especially the ‘Kilimookan’ or Kilichundan mampazham (Totapuri) breed. They are reasonably priced and usually sweet. Indian varieties are exorbitant and you really balk at spending so much and not being sure of what you get eventually when you sink your teeth into a $3 mango wrapped in some plastic padded sheaths. But then of course, there is no harm or expense in talking about our heavenly varieties, of that I am sure and so here is a short note on the Alphonso mango, with a mention of the Malgoa as well.

In Kerala we are more used to the Malgova (Malgoa or Mulgoba). Some of you may remember the 1967 song ‘mampazha thotathil, malgova aanu nee, masangalil nalla kanni masam’. It means, you are the Malgova in the mango orchard and you are the Kanni month of the year. Today it would not be too amusing to any girl if you address her as a mango (and if you listen to the rest of the song, you will agree not to sing it at all for she is equated to the kariveeti tree and a sindhi cow), but during yester year’s times with buxom, dark & and well endowed actresses, especially in Malayalam movies, it was probably a great compliment (or so I assume). Anyway the song was popular and we have all grown up eating the Malgoa mango. For the curious here is a link to the song, give it a good listen…

Then again, we find fault with the Portuguese every now and then and any student in history would term the turning point of Malabar history as the landing of Gama in Kappad near Calicut in 1498. They did make a mess of many a thing, but they did one or two good things. While bringing tobacco to Malabar was not so nice, bringing the cashew was a great thing and their experiments with mangoes resulted in the Malgoa and of course, the Affonso variety or the Alphonso (Affonso is Alphonso in English)

That takes me on a tangent; I still remember our trip to Edison’s house in Fort Myer’s in Florida (Oh! No, I am not that old, but I did visit his house a few years ago, which is the Ford Edison museum. Ford lived across Edison’s house). Among the tasks given to the inventor during the great wars was to find a substitute for rubber as the seas were being patrolled by German ships and were being mined here & there. So Edison went about systematically collecting all kinds of tropical tress and planting them in Florida, to check the prospects of getting a crop that will provide the required rubbery sap. Obviously all that was left after his death was the lab and a beautiful house with all kinds of tress. It has a fascinating banyan plant and many mango trees. As we walked by, we saw plenty of mangoes lying on the ground, which we picked up much to the consternation of our younger son who was alarmed, and who thought it was a crime. They tasted OK, not great anyway. We also had a fun time explaining to the public what the jack fruit was all about (see an earlier blog).

Anyway let us now get back to the Portuguese and mangoes. As the Portuguese found increasing resistance at Malabar, they established base at Goa and settled down into creating a little colony. Somehow they seemed to take to the local fruit, the Mango, which is a native to India and was many thousands of years old (it is mentioned from Vedic times). A clever friar who was also an avid gardener started trying out grafting experiments with various varieties and as the Portuguese went back & forth between colonies, took some saplings to Brazil. One of the experimental grafts in Brazil provided a perfect fruit, the variety eventually baptized Affonse. This came back to India in the 16th or 17th century and is the revered version of Alphonso that we know today. That is the gist of the story. But then again, there are some people who may have a deeper interest and many questions. For those people, here is some more meat, or as they say some more flesh around the seed, just like a juicy Alphonso.

But before going there, let us first bless and thank the friar who grafted & bred the Alphonso mango to perfection and gifted it to us mortals, as his compatriots and Cassados were making merry, breeding and cross breeding with our local populace. That was a long time after Alexander’s experience, now some of you may recall my mention in an earlier blog that Alexander’s troops got thoroughly sick (dysentery) eating large numbers of mangoes, he even banned them from eating the fruit to stay healthy.

First the popular write up about the Alphonso - It is named after Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese administrator of Goa & Malabar & admiral. The locals took to calling it Aphoos in Konkani and in Maharashtra the pronunciation got further transformed to Hapoos. This variety was then taken to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and other parts of India. In one of the famous journeys undertaken, the Brazilian graft found its way during Alphonso D’Albuquerque’s voyage when he brought his famous namesake fruit to India. So, the Alphonso mango found home along the verdant shores of the Konkan in Maharshtra India.
Is that really how it was? Did it have any connection to the Albuquerque? Was it a Brazilian breed? In reality, it is all due to Niculao Alfonso or Niculao Affonso, not Albuquerque. So the connection to the governor is fictional. But considering a number of other names given to mangoes, it must have been after St Alphonso Rodriguez of Spain, another Jesuit. Niccolo Manucci writing in the 17th century (Pg 169) is clear that the names were given after the people who created them and so credits the Alphons to Niccolo Alphonso. Goan mangoes eventually turned out to be excellent breeds.

Botanically the fruit is from the Mangifera Indica species. It was ‘Mankay’ or ‘mampazham’ and in the North it was called Am or Amba, but the Portuguese were the first to call it Mangay which became mango,. It is not that the Indians did not know grafting; it was just that the Portuguese in Goa perfected it based on European methods. The Chinese had taken it with them in the 7th Century – Huwen Tsang records the event. Either the Portuguese (15th-16th Century) or the Arabs traders (as early as 7th-10th century) transported the fruit & seeds to Africa, from India. The Portuguese took it to South America and their African colonies later.

Some fun trivia

Ammini – She has her base obliquely flattened, without any cavities; apex rounded, the neck conspicuous and surface smooth, deep in color, overspread with dull scarlet particularly around the base, skin thick and firm; flesh bright orange-yellow in color, melting in the mouth, very juicy, strongly aromatic, free from fiber, and of sweet unusually spicy flavor; quality excellent. With so many Ammini’s now grown in Florida, no wonder so many Malayalees have also taken root in Florida, at last count there were over many tens of thousands of Mallus there. Incidentally Ammini is from the Alphonso family. BTW Alphonso is more vigorous than the Mulgoa and bears fruits frequently.

British actor Terence Stamp who recently acted in Valkyrie, says that his favorite food is Alfonso mangos. Stamp once told an interviewer that he liked to eat them in the bath. "Eating a mango is like having sex," he said. "It has to be dirty to be good." And adds " I always say unless you've had an Alfonso mango you've never had a mango."

Mango trick – In the 16th to 18th century, Yogis and magicians used to perform the mango trick, of planting a seed in the ground and in minutes showing the plant springing up, becoming a tree, bearing fruit and then vanishing, much to the amazement of the onlooker. Now don’t ask me more about this, all I can say is that it is well reported and documented by the ‘firangis’.

Mango diplomacy – See the cartoon? It is Zia Ul haq advising his ambassador ‘deliver the mangoes first and the bomb later’.Mango box gifts have been a standard feature in Indo Pak discussions.

Of recent, it is part of India - US diplomacy as well; US prohibited mango import from India for many long years. To tell you an interesting story, in 1960, during a state visit by Nehru, Alphonso mangoes imported from Bombay were served for Nehru’s state dinner with JF Kennedy by BK Nehru, the Indian ambassador. There was a caveat, after dinner, all seeds were to be collected & handed over to the USDA for incineration. May 2007, heralded the lifting of the US ban and the ushering of the mango madness as they call it out here in USA….

Legend has it that it was Hanuman who brought the sacred tree to India from Lanka. As his theft was discovered he was given a trial of fire, which he extinguished, but got his face scarred black, by the flames. But that story cannot be quite right as there is another story that as a child he saw the sun and thought it was a ripe mango and jumped at it, getting singed. So he did know about mangoes before he grew up and went to Lanka in support of Rama!

My mother always made us eat a green (not ripe) mango or take at least a bite from mango pickles for luck before going for exams. Whether that or my studies brought me loads of good results, I can’t be sure of. Mango leaves are part of many Hindu religious activities.

The varieties
Fernando do Rego states - The following is an alphabetical list including many of the one hundred and six varieties that existed or still exist in Goa and are of Goan origin, as particularly after 1961, many varieties from other Indian States were introduced in Goa: Abreu, Afonsa, Afonsinha, Amini, Anands, Araujo, Araup, Areca, Aruda, Aurea, Babio, Barasmasi, Barreto, Bastarda, Bemcorada, Bispo, Bolo, Bombio, Brindão, Burgó, Camões, Carreira, Carreira Branca, Chimut, Cidrão, Colaço, ColaçoBranca, Conde, Costa, Cola, Custodio, Derrubada, Diniz, Dom Bernardo, Dom Fernando, Dom Filipe, Dom João, Doura­do, Dourada, Dulce, Durbate, Fernandina, Ferrão, Figueiredo, Filipina, Fottio, Frederico, Frias, Furtado; Gargó, Godgó, Hilário, Japão, Jerónimo, Jesuíta, Joanni-Parreira, José, Kapri, Madame, Malaia, Mainato, Malgessa (Eccondó Malgessa and Pocddó Malgessa), Malcorada, Malgoa, Marichenan, Marchon, Matekin, Mateus, Matutina, Máxima, Miranda, Mirió, Mogri, Mon­serrate de Bardez orMonserrate Branco), Monserrate de Salsete (orMonserrate Vermel­ho),Monteiro, Mozambique, Mrina; Naik, Nicolau-Afonso, Nossa Senhora Agua-de-Lupe; Oliveira; Papel, Papel Bela, Papel Branco, Pires, Porto, Reário, Rebello, Reinol, Rosa, Rosário, Sacarina, Salgada, Salgadinha, Santana, Santiago. Santo António, Secretina, Severino, Sonar, Tanque, Temudo, Timor, Timoteo, Toranja, Tokio; Undurli, Xavier.
There were evidently no established criteria for attributing the names, as they adopted surnames and the Christ­ian names of saints and kings. They were also influenced by questions of size, flavor, scent and other qualities.

While all the Portuguese names are male, the Indian names (recent breeds) are always female – Amarapalli, Ammini, Neelam, Mallika, Neeleshwari, Ratna, Hussenara, Sofia, Laila Majnu….There are of course famous varieties like the Badshahbhog, Rani-Pasand , Langra, Gopal Bhog , Fazli Brindamani, Satiar, Suryapuri, Satiar, Mohan Bhog, Kishan Bhog, Himshagar and Ashina. Another brilliant variety is the Kesar from Gujarat, a personal favorite. It is considered the queen of mangoes. My brother however maintains that the ‘Banganapalli’ is king.

Hopefully all of you will bite into some good mangoes this season...


The Mango - Richard E Litz
Storia do Mogor - Niccolaò Manucci, William Irvine
Hobson Jobson dictionary
Manual of tropical and subtropical fruits - Wilson Popenoe
Portuguese Vocables in Asiatic Languages - Xavier S Anthony, Sebastiao R Dalgado
Mangoes - Fernando do Rego
A good article

Pic – Cartoon extracted from the book ‘A tryst with mango - By Om Prakash, R. M. Khan’


Nikhil Narayanan said...

Interesting though I think this was a short post.
Seems like time was a luxury while drafting this one.

harimohan said...

Maddy on Mangoes was equally enlivening and exhausting .
Wonder why you left out that wonderful book by Penguin Editor David Davidar
" the house of blue mangoes "
here one of his ancestors go all over India to judge the best mangoe and finally gives the price to the blue mangoe tree in his own house ..good read

Indrani said...

The mango season is almost ending here and now this post! Great tease, I felt and an interesting read. :)

Anonymous said...

padmaja writes -

how could u forget the dussehri, the chosa from Delhi?

Unknown said...

Maddy, quite interesting read - the Brazilian influence of one of India's finest exports.
Am already dreaming of indulgence.

Raghu Menon said...

wow...interesting one.

Here we hear of the health inspectors catching huge stocks of mangoes artificially ripened which are supposed to be harmful for human consumption.

We cant even have our native mangoes with out the fear of being drowsed in chemicals..!!!

Sid said...

The US allowed mangoes to be imported on the condition that the Indian govt. allowed the legendary Harley Davidson to import their motorcycles into India.

The Indian government did relax their ban on imports of motorcycles and restricted it to motorcycles having engine capacities over 800cc. But once this was done Harley got cold feet and instead most of the Japanese majors sell their top-end models although at exorbitant prices.

Great post like always. I have been following your blog for sometime through feeds but never commented since I just didn't have too much to say. This time I could add some information about the Mangoes for Harleys trade that happened between the US and India.

Anonymous said...

Delicious post. I have been following your blog for quite some time now. I wonder if the Mexican Ataulfo sold in the US is the same as Alfonso?


P.N. Subramanian said...

Very interesting. I was also wondering as to why Dashahari, Chous and Safeda have not figured. We are still getting Dashahari and Langda. Baiganapalli was available till end of June.

Maddy said...

Thanks guys for many illuminating comments

PNS, Padmaja - I missed quite a few varieties, for example the huge Gundu manga that we used to have at home ...Hopefully readers will add the names as they remember..

Su - The Ataulfo is the mango pictured right in the beginning. The Totapuri as it is known in India. It goes under the names of Champagne, Honey, manila etc and is of Indonesian - Hawaiian origin.Mainly grown in Mexico, it is very popular in USA, these days.

Sid - Glad I have readers like you - I had only a faint notion about the Harley deal, it was never reported here..Now I know the story. Doubt if the Harley can take over from the effective & dependable 'Bullet'.

Thanks Raghu - I thought it was standard practice to use ethylene for ripening things? Has been there for ages. But is it dangerous?

Moody brain, Indrani, Nikhil - thanks a lot...

Hari - Curiously I have been having that book on the shelf for over 6 years now and have not read it. Is it so good? the cover pic and the mango in the name plus a wave of home sickness made me pick it up during some travel many years ago, but then it lay forgotten...

Maddy said...

Raghu - I checked further and found the details. It appears that many nefarious mango traders are dropping small bags of calcium carbide into mango boxes for quick ripening.

The calcium carbide reacts with the moisture from a mango to produce acetylene which accelerates ripening, like ethylene. i can only assume in conclusion that this chemical is cheaper to administer & easily available compared to ethylene and hence resorted to..

the effects of calcium carbide are explained in this document -

Vetirmagal said...


Came here via Mysore Blog Park.

Very intresting and informative write up . Enjoyed it. I was surprised to read so many names!

Sadly mango season got over just now, here in A.P. We are searching the markets for the last batch of sweet mangoes.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Acetylene is a catalyst that can ripen fruits.Forgot,the exact biology funda.This is available in 11-12th Botany textbooks.

The normal pukakkal that traders do with kola(banana) to ripen it is nothing but the same process.When vazha ila and like are burnt it releases Acetylene that accentuates ripening.


harimohan said...

i can assure you the book is a good read

Kamini said...

Fantastic post! My mouth was watering throughout!

pradeep said...

Took me back to the days when we used to feast on mangoes in the school campus. Now the varieties available are mindboggling. Sometimes I wonder if the roadside vendor is taking us for a ride saying the mangoes are imported etc...

Anonymous said...

I think the Alfonso is a highly overrated mango. It is tasty but not worth the expense. I guess it is highly subjective. And coming from Andhra - I would any day bite into a Banganpalli.

Ashvin said...

I agree with the last anonymous, alfonso is a lot of hype....

Maddy said...

Thanks kamini, Pradeep, Ashvin & anonymous...

Wow! i am surprised, imported mangoes in India??

Maddy said...

Thanks Nikhil & Vetrimagal. appreciate your visiting this blog..

Anonymous said...


When the Times [UK] came up with the comment[an article a couple of years ago?] about Alfonso as 'the sweetest mango in the world', I was chuffed to bits and showed it to my son, who shrugged his shoulders as if to say 'there he goes again, anything from India is the best'!

I thought the Philippines Carabo [or something like that] was considered widely to be the sweetest, but then how do you rate them as 'the best' or 'the sweetest'. They must all be damn good [am sure there are other Indian mangoes as well] but having tasted and eaten Alfonso all along my life, my vote goes to King Alfonso.


Maddy said...

Thanks Alex...

The Carabao is also called the Manila mango, from the Totapuri family pictured at the top. This used to come to US until last year, now the Mexican Ataulfo has taken over.

taste-wise it was OK, but in my opinion nothing to beat the Goan varieties..

Ramachandran said...

There is a variety called Priyur.This comes from a mango tree planted byFr. Chavara Kuriakose Elias who was Prior General of Catholic Church at Koonammavu Near North Parur.Priyur comes from Prior.