2 Jul 2023

Why winter is the best time to enjoy mangoes in New Zealand

7:31 am on 2 July 2023
A box of Kesar mangoes at Yogiji's Food Mart in Henderson

A box of Kesar mangoes at Yogiji's Food Mart in Henderson. Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

While much of the country eyes winter with dread, the Indian community in New Zealand looks forward to the shorter days with anticipation as they await the arrival of the first shipment of mangoes from India.

Demand for the imported fruit is so high at this time of year that it is almost impossible to secure a box.

Fans of mango scour social media posts, especially on Facebook, in a bid to track down the address of a retailer with available stock.

Desperation eventually starts to creep in as the season begins to wind down after a few weeks, with consumers increasingly willing to pay prices that will inevitably rise.

But why are Indians so crazy about mangoes? The winter frenzy surrounding the fruit's availability in New Zealand ranks right up there alongside their love of cricket and Bollywood movies.

Jayakrishnan Sreekumar is definitely a fan.

"Absolutely. It's not just plain mango, we also have drinks like Fruity and Maaza."

Jayakrishnan Sreekumar

Jayakrishnan Sreekumar. Photo: Supplied

Maaza is India's top-selling mango-flavoured drink, produced by Coca-Cola. Last year alone, Indians splurged almost $1 billion on it.

Such is the love of mangoes in India that most of the country's production is consumed domestically.

In April, at the start of the mango season, Indian consumers ordered mangoes worth around $5 million on Zepto, a popular grocery delivery app in India.

The obsession with the fruit can largely be attributed to two main factors: the availability of mangoes when they are in season and the nostalgia associated with them.

"Back home, we had a big mango tree and we used to eat raw mangoes along with ripe mangoes," Sreekumar, who migrated with his family to New Zealand seven years ago, said.

"In summer, we pluck with some chilli and salt - oh my god, that was such an amazing experience. It's part of my childhood. I don't think my kids will probably ever have that."

Indian mangoes in a Sandringham supermarket.

Indian mangoes in a Sandringham supermarket. Photo: RNZ / Blessen Tom

Having spent 30 years in India, Sreekumar moved to New Zealand in 2017, where he has been struggling to find mangoes that match the variety from his homeland.

Most mangoes he has purchased from supermarkets in New Zealand have been "expensive and didn't taste the same".

He has tried varieties from Peru and Mexico that are available on New Zealand supermarket shelves but has found them lacking in sweetness and texture compared to the beloved Alphonso mangoes he grew up with.

"It's not really sweet but also the texture is so different. When you eat Alphonso, it's sweet and juicy."

The mango season in New Zealand typically lasts a few weeks, prompting Indians to use mangoes in every dish they can.

From mango chutney and pickles to mango salads, mango kulfi (Indian ice cream) and mango lassi, mangoes are used in numerous culinary creations.

"I love mango pickles," Sreekumar said, but he believes that plain mango is the ultimate treat.

What sets Indian mangoes apart?

"Indian varieties are superior - in terms of taste, texture, tenderness and, of course, how juicy they are."

Jatin Layazawala

Jatin Layazawala. Photo: Supplied

That is just the kind of mangoes that Jatin Layazawala sells.

"I'm selling around 200 to 300 boxes of Kesar mangoes, especially on the weekends," Layazawala, who manages Yogiji's Food Mart in Henderson, said.

Kesar and Alphonso are two varieties of mango that are popular with his customers.

Layazawala is nostalgic about the role of mangoes in Indian households.

"From childhood, when we are brought up, we have had this fruit and the moment summer comes, no matter how expensive it is, it comes to each and every house."

Unfortunately, mangoes do not travel well, and they are supposed to be consumed immediately after being harvested.

"They are very perishable and MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) is also very strict, so it's not easy to bring them here," Layazawala said.

Mangoes tend to attract fruit flies and MPI requires a mandatory vapour heat treatment on all shipments to ensure any flies do not make it to New Zealand.

In 2020, MPI announced a temporary ban on Indian mango imports from one treatment facility to New Zealand after containment concerns.

In May, however, the government lifted the ban.

"I really miss them," Sreekumar said. "Mangoes are connected to a lot of memories."

He is excited about the government lifting the ban and is hoping for more Indian mangoes in the New Zealand market.

"I think New Zealanders would love Indian mangoes. They're missing out on the good stuff."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs