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Wonderful fruits of the kingdom of Thailand: delicious mango and lynchee (litchee)

THAILAND IS BLESSED with a large variety of wonderful and delicious fruits which abound in different seasons of the year. Luscious Ma Muang, in Thai, as well as the detectable or Litchee or Lynchee tropical fruits are now in season and many Thais will be salivating at the thought of indulging in this annual bounty.

Yellow, ripened fruit can satisfy taste-bud cravings and the rich, creamy texture feels good on the tongue. What's more, they are actually good for you-- and it's not often that one can indulge in a comfort food without watching the waistline or feeling pangs of guilt!

The mango is native to Southeast Asia (although there are now in excess of 1,000 species around the world) and many people suggest that mangoes from this region are best. Certainly no one is going to argue about Thailand's mangoes --they are simply delicious.

“Kiew Sawaoey”, a green, unripened mango and when peeled and sliced, its crunchy to the tooth, has a sour/sweet taste eaten with a dip of mixture of sugar, salt and chili gives a sparkling burst of flavour. The yellow, ripened variety may be peeled and eaten "as is" " soft fleshed, packed with juice and sweetness with a creamy texture on the tongue. Thais love to eat Mango with Sticky Rice (Og Rong) and many stall holders set up shop solely to prepare and sell this wholesome Thai dessert. In Thailand the favorite Thai dessert is Khao Niew Ma Muang, which is a combination of glutinous rice, sugar and coconut milk, with a serving of fresh, sun-yellow mango slices. With desserts like these diners may well forego a starter or main course! Ripe mangoes have a rich, fruity fragrance at the stem and will yield to gentle finger pressure. The color will usually be yellow but there may also be tinges of red, orange or green. Thais love to eat them both ripened and unripened.

Dessert mangoes vary in size, skin color and shape, some being broad, green-skinned and almost round, others being pale golden and slender, and still others having a reddish tinge to the skin.

When the heat of April and May is at its height and the humidity is at its most grueling, mangoes ripen to the delight of everyone in Southeast Asia. Mangoes come in many clearly distinct varieties and can be divided into two broad categories: those that are eaten green (unripe) for their sharp tart flavor, and dessert mangoes, enjoyed for their sweetness and juice.

The fruit deteriorates quite rapidly after it has ripened, so mangoes may also be canned and processed into juice - fortunately without any loss of flavor.

Fortunately, mangoes are not only good to eat but also good for us. They contain an enzyme which soothes the stomach and are high in vitamins (A & C plus beta-carotene), antioxidants and minerals. Naturally high in fibre, a mango a day (during the season) will ensure that you're regular guys and gals! In fact, one mango will provide about 40% of the body's daily fibre requirement and will replace potassium lost through perspiration. An average size mango will deliver only 1 gram of fat and 110 calories " so it's safe to have another one!

Meanwhile, the juicy, refreshing Lynchee fruit combines the subtle aroma of good quality grapes with it's own uniquely delicious flavor. The lynchee is known to have been cultivated in China for the past 4,000 years, but made its first reported appearance in northern Thailand in the early 18th century. Lynchee is very exacting in its climactic and soil requirements.

A brief strong cold period is essential prior to the flowering of the lynchee tree, and without the blossoms there is no fruit. It also requires a hot and humid period for healthy growth. It has a tolerance for wet soils and is more comfortable in soil with a low pH level, and preferably a soil containing a fungus which aids the roots of the lynchee tree in growth and propagating fruit.

For these reasons, lynchee is grown almost exclusively in the northern provinces of Chiangmai, Chiangrai and Phayao, where these conditions are to be found. The three main varieties grown all originated in China, and have names reflective of their homeland: Hong Huay, Ow Hia and Gim Jeng.

Lynchee, normally available in MayThe thin, rumpled outer skin conceals a white, juicy, succulent pulp which surrounds a single shiny brown seed. Once the fruit has been picked, it must be marketed and eaten within four days if its full flavor is to be enjoyed. Surplus fruit may be canned or dried for future use, but nothing quite compares with the delicacy of taste and texture of the fresh fruit. The Chinese have long considered the lynchee to be a symbol of love and romance; a gift of ripe lynchee fruit was considered tantamount to a proposal of marriage. On a less romantic level, the delicious lynchee makes very good eating for the health conscious, since the fruit is high in natural sugars, and one fruit alone contains over 20% of the daily human Vitamin C requirement.

The northern lynchee crop is picked in the month of May, and, as is typical here in the North, there are many festivals to celebrate this glorious harvest. Each province has its own celebration: a festival in Phayao, festivities in the Faang District of Chiangmai, and a fair in Chiangrai. Each festival will feature traditional music and dance, competitions among growers and displays of lynchee products.

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