Mango Madness

The mango is one of the most popular fruits in the World and it is no wonder why.

You can eat them in a variety of ways. Enjoy green mangoes with salt, lime juice, and sprinkled with ground pumpkin seeds or chili powder.  Or indulge in the sweet and salty mango margarita. Mangoes have natural tenderizing properties, making them a perfect ingredient for marinades. And of course the versatile mango is wonderful in smoothies, salads, salsas, chutneys, on fish, chicken or pork, as a dessert or just as a plain delicious snack.

Mango variety

With over 500 varieties, mango season in Guatemala begins mid-march. Around 90% of Guatemalan mango exports are sent to the U.S., with the remainder shipped to Europe. When weather conditions are favorable, Guatemala harvests around 50 million pounds of mangoes per year.

Surprisingly, skin contact with oils in mango leaves, stems, and sap can cause dermatitis and anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals. Beware next time you're climbing a mango tree.

Don’t judge a mango by its color – red does not mean ripe. Squeeze gently to judge ripeness. A ripe mango will “give” slightly and a firm mango will ripen at room temperature over a few days. To speed up ripening, place mangoes in a paper bag at room temperature. Once ripe, mangoes can be moved to the refrigerator to slow down ripening for several days.

Jocotes

There are some Guatemalan fruits that are impossible to translate into English; jocote is one of them.

Jocotes are a member of the cashew family. The fruit tree is indigenous to Central America and grows wild throughout Guatemala. They are green and red fruit the size of a very small egg. Although small, jocotes pack a punch and are flavorfully addicting.

Jocotes are a fruit that can be enjoyed at any stage during the ripening process. When the skin is yellow/red the jocote will be sweet and ripe, tasting of citrus and mango. You can also enjoy a jocote with a green skin signaling that it is not fully ripened. The green jocotes are mouth puckeringly tart and most Guatemalans will add a dash of salt in an attempt to balance the acidity and tart flavors.

The skin is the thickness of a plum skin but it is very tender, making it easy and pleasant to chew. There is a seed inside, so be mindful as your teeth tear through it. Jocotes can be enjoyed fresh or in dish like Jocotes en Miel which consists of the fresh fruit soaked in a spiced syrup.

Guisquil (you might know it as Chayote)

Guisquil is the wonder vegetable of Guatemalan cuisine. This green, pear-shaped squash is prominently used in Guatemalan soups and stews, but can also be found in other forms as well. 

Guisquil was one of the many foods introduced to Europe by early explorers. Originally grown in Southern Mexico, the conquest of Mesoamerica spread the plant south of Mexico, eventually causing it to be integrated into the cuisine of many other Latin American countries.

Today, Guisquil has found its way into the cooking of non Latin American countries. In Australia, the squash thrives and can be found on vines climbing up fences and houses. In the United States, Guisquil was appreciated as a cheap and hearty commodity during the Depression and War era. It was even used as a substitute for apples in apple pie. 

The flavor of Guisquil is rather bland, and therefore it is added to dishes where it can soak up the flavors around it. The squash is a great source for Vitamin C and fiber, and it is especially known for its high water content, with water making up nearly 93% of a Guisquil’s total weight.

While this vegetable (technically all members of the squash/melon/gourd family are fruits, but we will call it a vegetable since it acts like one) has fallen out of vogue in the United States and elsewhere, down here in Guatemala we appreciate the Guisquil in all its forms. Keep an eye out for the squash in Guatemalan stews, like Pepian or Jocon.

The Mayan Trifecta

Based on the ancient agricultural methods of the Mayans, milpa is a crop growing technique that produces maize, beans, and squash. These three food staples are compared to three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together.

The benefits of interplanting corn, beans, and squash are numerous and include long term soil fertility and a healthy diet.

“Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following years corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans.”

These three crops were among the first to be domesticated by Mesoamerican civilizations. Corn, beans, and squash provide a wide array of complimentary health benefits. Corn has the carbohydrates, the beans are high in protein, and squash contains necessary vitamins and oil from the seeds.