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7 Things You Didn’t Know About Mangosteen

May 5, 2014

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You may have heard of it on Dr. Oz, or seen it as a juice in vitamin stores, or maybe you’ve never heard the word “mangosteen” before in your life. Either way, if you haven’t tried it yet, you’re in for a real treat. 

Mangosteen is a fruit native to Southeast Asia that looks like a cartoonish plum with a leafy green cap, which reveals a creamy white pulp when cut open. The pulp is full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and a plethora of antioxidants, including xanthones, which are presently being studied for their ability to halt cancer cell growth.

While this fruit makes it onto many superfood lists, its nutritional value isn’t the only interesting things about it! I bet you didn’t know these 7 facts about mangosteen:

  1. Mangosteen needs lots of TLC: Originating in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, the mangosteen is a sensitive fruit that only flourishes in highly tropical, humid climates. Other tropical countries have since begun cultivating it, but the plants are very high-maintenance. For example, young mangosteen trees have incredibly weak roots, and the seed takes anywhere from 8 to 10 years to mature into a fruit-bearing tree! All the more reason to give thanks when you finally get your hands on one.
  2. Mangosteen is called the Unicorn of Fruit: With a rich, purple peel and gleaming white pulp, the mangosteen looks like it was drawn as part of a mythical fairy tale. Despite its appearance, what gives the fruit its moniker is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find due to its persnickety growth requirements as well as a USDA ban on Asian imports due to concern over tropical pests being transported with the fruit.
  3. It can be tough to find Forbidden Fruit: The strict growing requirements and USDA ban make mangosteen tough to get your hands on, so in the US, you’ll likely only find fresh mangosteen in Asian markets, particularly your city’s Chinatown. This may be changing soon, though, as the USDA recently decided it will allow imports of Asian fruit, as long as they’re irradiated. I personally still haven’t seen it in stores, but be on the lookout! So for now, your best bet is to head to Chinatown, where you’ll likely find mangosteen grown in Canada, which doesn’t pose a threat of tropical pests (and doesn’t have to be irradiated). However, you’ll hear many mangosteen enthusiasts, who have tasted the “real thing” in Southeast Asia, complain about the inferior quality of Chinatown mangosteens. It makes sense, since Canada doesn’t exactly have the ideal growing conditions for the fickle plant. You may be lucky, and find some grown in Puerto Rico or Florida. If you do get your hands on a fresh one, here are some great tips for picking and opening them!
  4. Mangosteen comes in many forms: If you don’t have a ticket to Thailand or live near a Chinatown, you can still get a dose of mangosteen. You will often find it in health food stores as powder, or in vitamin stores as juice. I highly recommend the powder over the juice, as powders are made from the dried and ground fruit, which typically retain more nutrients than the highly processed and pasteurized juices which can have additives, be higher in sugar, and sit on store shelves for ages.
  5. Mangosteen can be eaten whole: Despite a firm encasing protecting the white segmented fruit, the whole mangosteen, including the rind, can be consumed for its beneficial nutrients. Traditionally, the rind was used to make a healing tea, and is now often used in juices. Note that if you do make a juice from the rind, you will likely want to add other ingredients, like carrots or sweet fruit, as the taste can be quite sour and astringent.
  6. Mangosteen may solve your skin woes: When used topically, studies show that mangosteen is effective in treating acne. The nutritional composition of mangosteen inhibits the growth of certain bacteria, particularly those associated with acne. Additionally, folk healers have traditionally made a salve of mangosteen to treat eczema or cuts.
  7. Mangosteen may be part of an effective future cancer treatment: While there are not enough studies done on mangosteen to provide conclusive results, there are a few promising trials that suggest mangosteen can slow or stop the growth of certain cancer cells, in particular  colon cancer and breast cancer. The fruit’s high antioxidant profile, which delay the growth of free radicals, give some scientists hope that it could one day be used to effectively stop the spread of cancer cells.

Have you ever tried mangosteen? Tell us how you liked it in the comments below!