And what on earth is a mangosteen?
Mangos can be an unexpectedly intimidating fruit. They're a stone fruit, which means there's a pit in the center, so cutting them can be tricky if you don't know what you're doing. (You definitely don't want to accidentally bit into a mango pit, that's for sure.) Plus, there always seems to be a different kind of mango at the supermarket depending on the month, each with a different color and slightly different texture. So what is the difference between mango varieties, and why are there so many? And don't even get me started on mangosteens—because what's the difference between a mangosteen and a mango anyway?
The reason it seems like there's always a different kind of mango in the grocery store every time you go is because there probably is a different kind of mango every time. There are over 400 known varieties of mango, and really, the variety that you see in the supermarket only represents a small, commercially available selection. According to the Mango National Board, an industry group for mango professionals, there are six common mango varieties available in the United States—but chances are good that you're coming across two of the most popular types.
The most popular variety is the Tommy Atkins, which has a firm flesh with lots of fibers and a mild taste. The second most popular variety is the Ataulfo mango, which has a relatively small pit and a creamy flavor with very few fibers; it's kind of the mango lovers' mango.
Most of the mangos in the United States come from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Guatemala and Haiti, and the reason Americans can enjoy mangos year-round is because each country has a different growing season when different varieties can be grown. Peak mango availability is late spring to early summer. That's when you'll be able to get Ataulfo mangos from Mexico and Tommy Atkins mangos from basically everywhere. There's also a fall and winter growing season, but the selection is a little slimmer. From October to January, you're really only going to be working with Tommy Atkins mangos.
Each of these mango varieties has a slightly different color skin, ranging from deep red to golden yellow to a mix of pink and green. But when it comes to picking a mango, that skin color doesn't matter at all. What you're looking for is a soft flesh, which you can judge by lightly squeezing the piece of fruit.
A mangosteen, meanwhile, really has nothing to do with a mango except for the fact that it has "mango" in the name. Yes, a mangosteen is not a variety of mango. They're more like lychees than anything else, with a thick skin and a soft, sweet white flesh. Mangosteens are delicious in their own way, but no, you can't swap in a mangosteen for a mango in a recipe—although given all of the types of mangos out there, I'd be shocked if you couldn't get your hands on this tropical fruit.