Human Flower Project

Kings, Queens and Mangosteens

As the mercury rises, the Local Ecologist unpacks an array of tropical fruit. Plug in the blender!


Inside a fresh mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana). Queenly? Try it and see.

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

By Georgia Silvera Seamans

“So precise a balance of acid and sugar,” that’s how R.W. Apple decribes mangosteen, the southeast Asian fruit that “can’t get a visa.”

My friend L.I. sent me Apple’s story before I left for Singapore and Malaysia and Hong Kong. Busy as I was before the trip (my husband was graduating and families were in town), I did not read the article till my return. Now I can agree.

My husband fell in love with the “queen of fruit” in Malaysia and Singapore. (Singapore used to be a part of Malaysia.)  The taste! But magosteen is interesting in other ways, too, most notably its inner math—the number of lobes on the bottom of each mangosteen corresponds to the number of segments in that particular fruit.  My friend’s dad proudly disclosed this to us with several mangosteens.

imageNot a nerf ball—that’s an edible rambutan. Peel first.

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

One cannot talk about the “queen of fruit” without mentioning the “king” or the durian.  Before this trip, I had never smelled or eaten one though I had seen them, live and in photos.  Somehow the durians’ scent is muted in the air-conditioned markets of the U.S.  I think they smell and taste like onions, not exactly what I associate with fruit.  But others have described durians in less pleasant terms.  In The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka, a colonial Englishman described durian as “eating a raspberry blancmange in a lavatory.” I’ve never eaten anything in a lavatory nor have I eaten a raspberry blancmange, so can’t vouch for this.  (If you’re interested in Malaysian fiction, read Preeta Samarasan’s Evening is the Whole Day and Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain.)  Although every local we spoke with about the durian extolled its delicious taste, we never saw anyone eating a durian.

Malaysia really brought back childhood memories of Jamaica, mostly to do with the landscape and food.  I had long associated the durian with the jackfruit (popular in Jamaica), but the two are different.  The jackfruit’s smell is quite unpleasant and the smell deterred me from eating it as a child (and adult), but not my parents and so many Jamaicans and, it seems, Malaysians.

Back to more pleasant - according my palate - fruit.  The lychee.  A mellow sweetness.  L.I. also introduced us to rambutan (pictured above).  It looks like a hairy red ball.  In fact, rambut means “hair” in Malay.  To eat it, break the skin and pop out the fruit, a mild-tasting flesh surrounding a seed.


An ideal summer breakfast: papaya with fresh Malaysian lime

Photo: Georgia Silvera Seamans

Papaya with limes.  A great breakfast treat.  Malay limes are a perfect mix of tart and sweet.  This juice is very refreshing, and would be a good summer drink in the South and Southwest states.

Editor’s Note: Thank you, Georgia. Smoothie for lunch today (fresh frozen cherries and blueberries, plus frozen peaches and orange juice). We’ll be looking for limes, rambutan, plus your king and queen at the market!  Temperature in Austin, Texas, USA, at 1:55 p.m. June 26: 101 F and rising.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/26 at 02:41 PM


Thank you so much, Georgia. I’m ready for a smoothie, too! It’s 92 in Louisville with smothering humidity. There’s a citrus relative, popular in Sichuan, China, called the chinese pepper corn, Xanthoxylum piperitum. It’s got a pungent odor, obvious anywhere near a stir fry in Sichuan. And it will rival chile peppers for hot flavoring, though they’re not related. The Chinese pepper corn can be found, sometimes, in Asian markets in the U.S. though it is illegal. The USDA tries to keep it out because of fear of spreading citrus canker, and perhaps other diseases, to domestic citrus crops. A USDA official once showed me 50 pounds of confiscated Chinese pepper corns. I began drooling (I love the flavoring) and begged for a bag. She wasn’t budging and said it would be burned. She assured me, however, that stores would be stocked again within a week.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/26 at 03:31 PM

Julie, thank you.  I enjoyed reminiscing.
Also, thanks Allen for the story about the Chinese pepper corn.

Posted by Georgia on 06/26 at 05:29 PM

Ah, the mangosteen!  Truly a wonderful fruit.  Durian, not so much.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/26 at 06:24 PM

Yummers! Mangosteen and rambutan, two of the fruits I miss the most from my malaysian childhood. They don’t ship well at all, and our winters here in Bangladesh are too cold for us to grow them. We have a few of the other tropical fruit champions though—lychees, duku and starfruit—but for soil or whatever reason, ours are too tart.

How could you not like the jack? sigh. I only recently found out that such people exist, and in large numbers too :( Durian, though—never did go there. When I was little the description among haters was similar: “like eating french vanilla custard in the loo”.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/27 at 03:44 AM

We have a dear friend here in Sarasota,who like us, is a gardener and a cook.  His frozen durian cheesecake is legendary. 

But like cilantro, durian is one of those tastes about which no one is neutral. Over twenty years ago, I speculated that one’s love or aversion to cilantro was probably genetic and possibly gender-weighted toward men having that intense dislike. I knew Korean, Chinese, Argentinian and American WASP males who all hated it, but most women I knew quite enjoyed it or were, like me, mad for it.

Has anyone else observed a similar gender bias with durian? 

Scientists HAVE recently confirmed that the aversion to cilantro IS genetic, so perhaps they’ll begin to look at durian.

holly (at) hollychase (dot) com

Posted by Holly Chase on 07/02 at 03:17 PM
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