The mangosteen is a fruit that originated in the steamy lowland tropical jungles of Southeast Asia and was brought into cultivation by many countries over the last millennium (1-3). As a fresh fruit, it has few rivals and is considered one of the best tasting in the world. This discussion, however, centers around mangosteen as a processed product. And not just the delicious and edible interior but the whole fruit, leathery rind and all.
The first question one must ask is, why use the whole fruit? Why put the entire fruit into a finished product when only one part, the aril or white interior, tastes so good and the rind tastes so awful?
The mangosteen when processed with the rind as well as the edible aril is the subject of dozens of products and thousands, maybe tens of thousands of web sites because of its alleged health benefits. I can only guess how many products there are out there with untold numbers of formulations as beverages, lotions, teas, pills, powders, extracts, and so on. I cannot say if some are better or worse than others with regards to alleged health benefits but the FDA can and they warned one company in October of 2006 that I will refer to as “X”, as follows:
This letter is to advise you of serious concerns that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regarding the promotion of “X”, your mangosteen-juice product. Labeling used by distributors of your product promotes your product for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. Products intended for such uses are drugs under section 201(g)(1)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) [21 U .S .C . 321 (g)(1)(13)) .
I created the mangosteen.com web site in part to address the increasing number of questions being raised by the tidal wave of processed mangosteen products hitting the market today. I would emphasize before I go on that I have no financial involvement with any mangosteen product manufacturer by choice. I would also add that no one has more to gain from the scientific proof of any benefit attached to consuming mangosteens in any form or in any formulation, fresh or processed, than I do...because I grow them for fresh sales. On the other hand, if the mangosteen were to end up tainted by problems relating to the consumption of any of its numerous processed products, then it might spill over and affect my ability to market the fresh fruit.
Mangosteen - Past, Present and Future
The mangosteen has historically been praised in history and folklore for countless centuries by all who encountered it. The edible interior is renown for its indescribably sweet-sour melting rush of flavors. But apart from the edible treasure inside the hull, the rind (technically a pericarp) has also been part of Ayurvedic medicine and has been valued throughout its native range for its limited medicinal qualities. The rind possesses a great diversity of complex organic chemicals, amongst which are tannic acid and xanthones. However, I have never found any evidence that this tree is planted for the medicinal benefits, only for the delicious interior.
Xanthones comprise much of the promotional claims pertaining to the alleged historical medicinal uses but it may well be the tannic acid which explains why it has been used almost exclusively as an astringent and aid in controlling dysentery, diarrhea and so on. For the last several centuries, the primary medicinal use of the rinds of the mangosteen has been for dysentery, a disease that rarely appears anymore in present day America or Europe or most of Asia. In fact, the rind contains so much tannic acid, it was suggested by someone in the 19th century (New York Times, October 27, 1881) that they be sent bulk to the US to aid in the tanning of leather. According to this article, it made sense because the mangosteen rinds contained more tannin than was found in oak bark!
This raises a question as to the palatability of a mangosteen product that claims to be a whole fruit formulation. Undiluted, it would be much too bitter to consume unless the extract was chemically modified. Diluted, the harsh constituents could be masked by sweeteners or fruit concentrates containing a lot of sugar but then there would be much less of the alleged active ingredients. Imagine the flavor if you placed an entire grapefruit in a blender, bitter rind and all. As to making a juice out of just the edible interior portion, you might then lose out on most or all of the complex chemicals found in the rind. Thus the claim that you need the whole fruit. And since the USDA does not permit the import of fresh mangosteens from anywhere in Southeast Asia as of this writing, the fruit if processed
in the US would have to be frozen before it could gain entry.
I sent a sample of mangosteens from my farm to a US certified and accredited laboratory and found the nutritional value of the mangosteen aril to be quite low. There were decent amounts of potassium and sugars and small amounts of calcium and vitamin C. As one person said after hearing this and knowing the high price per pound for fresh fruit ($45/lb in New York), this would be an expensive way to get over a cold (with such low vitamin C content). Using just a puree of the total fruit for juice manufacturing makes no sense as this would be a highly astringent, bitter and unpalatable concoction.
As of this writing, from any portion of the mangosteen and its products, there are no FDA-approved products as treatments for cancer (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) or any disease: “Currently, there is an aggressive effort to promote mangosteen and mangosteen containing products as dietary supplements using high pressure sales tactics. Many independent distributors have made unsubstantiated claims that these products are effective as cancer treatments. While mangosteen extracts have been studied in the laboratories, there is no scientific evidence supporting the use of these products to treat cancer in humans.”
The idea of launching an informational web site seemed a reasonable one since my mangosteen fruits were going to reach the US in the years ahead and, in 1998, I reserved the domain name mangosteen.com. At the time I was somewhat surprised it was still available. I held off building the web site until 2006 but, following the invasion of the marketplace with processed mangosteen products, I was plagued by people trying to buy the domain or, failing that, steal it. This motivated me to address what I felt was a potential marketing and image problem for the mangosteen as a cure-all and I assembled the web site accordingly.
Future Superfruits? Or Just Superb Fruits!
Beyond the mangosteen, I see the palette of opportunities for superfruits to be vast. I have selected just a few of the potential candidates for their excellent flavor, visual and/or nutritional appeal and will detail why each deserves a place in the produce departments or supplement shelves or even medicine cabinets in years ahead (4-10). Some may have other attributes beyond just tasting good but if one criterion unites them all, they are ideal species for development, commercialization and profit someplace in the world.
So it turns out that money does grow on trees.
I have selected the following for consideration but realize that some may take decades to reach the consumer or possibly even longer.
1. Cupuassu, Theobroma grandiflorum. Hundreds of tons grown each year for use in a wide range of processed foods due to its unique pulp flavor. Seeds make a variation on chocolate.
2. Langsat, Lansium domesticum. Highly praised and priced, tastes a lot like a superb grapefruit. May contain anti-malarials in the skin.
3. Abiu, Pouteria caimito. A very sweet eye-catching fruit that is eaten fresh or one can take advantage of the thick pulp to make shakes, ice cream, yogurt. Heavily productive, long season.
4. Breadfruit, jackfruit and more; the genus Artocarpus. High in both starch and nutrients, the seeds are high in protein and the pulp can be prepared as a baked, boiled or fried food at almost any stage of development. When compared with other tropical starches, a very good source for calcium, magnesium, potassium and dietary fiber.
5. Yangmei, Myrica rubra (red bayberry, yumberry). A good source for anthocyanins in the red, pink and purple varieties, high in vitamin C and potassium, excellent as a fresh or processed fruit.
Other possibilities, longer time horizon
1. Burmese Grape or tampoi, Baccaurea ramiflora, rambai B. motleyana, and others. High in magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, dietary fiber and vitamin C. All parts of the tree and fruit used medicinally.
2. Mobola, Parinari curatellifolia. High in calcium, magnesium and potassium, excellent flavor. The seed is edible and produces a high quality cooking oil. The fruit is consumed fresh, as a juice, a syrup and can be made into beer.
3. Mahobohobo, sugarplum or wild loquat Uapaca kirkiana A very popular fruit consumed fresh right off the tree through the miombo ecological zone in Africa, this indigenous fruit tree (IFT) requires tropical conditions and abundant rain to produce large harvests of a low-fat fruit with good potassium levels and sugars adequate to produce fermented products, too.
4. Chupa chupa, Matisia or South American Sapote, Matisia cordata or Quararibea cordata. Visually stunning due to carotene content, a delicious fruit that is a bright orange color and could provide a new flavor for processors.
5. Souari nut, Caryocar nuciferum. A very large and delicious nut that is laden with unsaturated oils. This could be a new Brazil nut if the germplasm could be established
Panoramic Fruit Company, http://www.panoramicfruit.com/
Mangosteen website, http://mangosteen.com
Rambutan, Pulasan, Guarana website, http://rambutan.com/
Book, scientific articles
(1) Richards, A. J. Studies in Garcinia, dioecious tropical forest trees: the origin of the
mangosteen G. mangostana L.). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society (1990). 103:
(2) Carl M. Ramage, Lillian Sando, Cameron P. Peace, Bernard J. Carroll & Roderick A.
Drew. Genetic diversity revealed in the apomictic fruit species Garcinia mangostana L.
(mangosteen). Euphytica 136: 1-10. 2004
(3) Chinawat Yapwattanaphun and Suranant Subhadrabandhu. Phylogenetic relationship
of mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) and several wild relatives (Garcinia spp.) revealed by
ITS sequence data. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 129 (3): 368-373. 2004.
(4) Duke, James. http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ and http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/warning.html
(5) Morton, Julia F. Fruits of warm climates. Published by Julia F. Morton. 1987.
(6) Jules Janick, Robert E. Paull. The encyclopedia of fruits and nuts. CABI Publishing.
(7) E.M.W. Verheij and R.E Coronel. Plant resources of South-East Asia. Publ. by PROSEA
(8) National Research Council. 2008. Lost crops of Africa. Volume III: Fruits. Washington,
D.C. The National Academies Press.
(9) Robert J. Knight, Jr. Tropical fruits of Asia with potential for expanded world
production. Proceedings Tropical Fruits Workshop, Trop. Region Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci 27A:
(10) Diane Ragone and Catherine G. Cavaletto. Sensory evaluation of fruit quality and
nutritional composition of 20 breadfruit (Artocarpus, Moraceae) cultivars. Econ. Bot.
60(4), 2006, pp. 335-346