Mangosteen, a delicious fruit, still to be developed in the international produce business

Mangosteen, a delicious fruit, still to be developed in the international produce businessMangosteen, a delicious fruit, still to be developed in the international produce business

Fabrice Le Bellec y Eric Imbert, Cirad

The mangosteen  has been referred to as “the queen of the fruits”, a distinction that comes from both the delicate pure white flesh of the fruit and the superb reddish purple casing that surround its. The article by Fabrice Le Bellec and Eric Imbert, Cirad, in June 2013 Fruitrop, explains about cultivation, postharvest and market options of the mangosteen. The following  text belongs to the mentioned article.

It is a tropical tree and requires heat and moisture. Annual precipitation of more than 1500 mm, well distributed throughout the year, is essential. However, a short period of drought is beneficial for floral induction. The optimum temperature for growth is about 25 to 30ºC. The young trees cannot stand direct sunlight well and so are grown with companion crop that provide shade.

Multiplication is easy by means of seeds although these are not real seeds as they are formed without pollen. The germination capacity of seeds removed from the fruit is very short.

There seems to be only one main mangosteen variety although several mutations have been reported around the world. The tree grows very slowly and the first fruits are borne after eight to ten years. An adult tree may yield 200 to 2000 fruits.

The fruits are picked two or three days after they have changed colour, from green to violet. This harvest stage determines the final quality of the fruits. Picking to early (greenish yellow peel with to pink patches) affects the flavor of the flesh.

Prehavest features and mangosteen quality
Unsuitable cultivation conditions such as poor drainage or mineral deficiency (mainly calcium and zinc) can affect fruit quality and make them unsuitable for sale (translucent pulp). Likewise, certain pests cause serious indirect effects:  pricking by fruit flies or bugs cause flows of yellow latex that make the white flesh the fruit bitter if the touch it.

Thrips seem to be main pests of mangosteen and repeated pricking strongly affects the fruit colour that is a major selling point.

10-12ºC, the optimum temperature for postharvest
At postharvest stage, the fruits will keep for only a few days at ambient temperature while at 10-12ºC (with 85-90% relative humidity) they can keep for three weeks without quality being affected. Storage temperature lower than 10ºC cause serious physiological damage.

Finally, even through the pericarp of mangosteen seems strong, impacts during fruit handling result in much loss.

The delicacy of mangosteen flesh is incomparable when the fruit is perfectly ripe and freshly cut. In Thailand, the fruits are picked when they begin to turn pink (de 5 to 50% of the surface). They are open delicately with care taken to prevent latex from touching the pulp and placed in acid juice (lime juice for example) for 30 minutes to prevent browning, if not possible to eat it immediately, delicious!!

The lifetime of the product that was placed in acid juice is limited to 5 hours; the Thais like this very much, even being necessary a daily preparation.

Mangosteen can also be processed. The main products are fruit jelly, dried fruits, fruits frozen whole and juice. The latter are much appreciated for their antioxidant content and their presumed role in human health such as the lowering of fat levels in blood.

Mangosteen remains an ethnic fruit in Europe; most sales are in shops specializing in products from Asia and these are often supplied by special channels that obtain produce directly. Mangosteen is not sold in supermarkets and is only seen by the general public in displays of exotic produce during the Christmas period. Thailand is the main source of exports, followed by Indonesia.

Everyone appreciates the fine, fruity flavor, but there is unlikely to be a sales boom tomorrow. Mangosteen is still an expensive fruit sold at a fairly steady 7 to 8 euros per kg wholesale throughout the year. The price hardly ever falls to less than 6 euros even in the summer when peak production in Thailand and summer fruits coincide.

The high cost of transport (air freight only) comes over and above a fairly high production cost because of the very slow build-up of fruiting and the small yield of the trees. The fruit must also be sold fairly quickly before the skin hardens.

Finally, in some seasons internal quality problems (blackening) occur and this slows the development of a fruit whose retail price is very high.

More information
- Fabrice Le Bellec,
- Eric Imbert,
- Fabrice and Valérie Le Bellec, Le verger tropical – Cultiver les arbres fruitiers, Ed. Orphie, In French, 272 pages, 2007

The first picture is by and the mangosteen juice, by