The Alphonso mango, popularly known in Western India as ‘Hapus’, is often given the epithet ‘The King of Mangoes.’
However, not many know that this delicious variety of mango was created, so that it could be ‘cut and served’ on the table.
The Alphonso mango was named after the Portuguese Viceroy, Alfonso de Albuquerque, who conquered Goa and laid the foundations of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. Mango, botanically known as ‘Magnifera Indica’ is a fruit that is native to India and whose history goes back several millennia.
While there are references to mangoes in the Upanishads, Mauryan inscriptions and Mughal chronicles, the Alphonso mango as a variety emerged only with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century. Its creation was a part of the ‘Colombian Food Exchange,’ through which new varieties of fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, red chillies, maize etc. were introduced across the world.
Sadly, due to the lack of academic research, we know very little about the early history of Alphonso mangoes. There are some very interesting perspectives shared by the renowned Agricultural Scientist Dr YL Nene in the research paper ‘Mango through Millennia ,’ published in The Journal of Asian Agri-History 2001. As per Dr Nene, the traditional varieties of mangoes in India were what he called ‘sucking’ type of mangoes. Indians preferred those varieties, with their soft pulp, that could be squeezed by hand and sucked out.
However, when the Portuguese began exporting mangoes to Europe, they wanted one that could be served on the table, basically firmer varieties of mangoes that could be sent back home. According to Dr Nene, it were the Jesuit priests who first began experimenting and grafting on Mango plants in Goa between 1550 and 1575 CE.
During this time, a large variety of fruits emerged and they were distinguished by their Portuguese names like Alphonso, Peres, Rebello, Fernandina, Phillipina, Peres, Antonio and others. While many of these varieties are now lost, the Alphonso thrives in popularity. The grafting activity soon extended to other Portuguese-controlled areas like Ratnagiri and Karwar, with the cultivation of Alphonso mangoes spreading to these regions. While Alphonso mango is grown across Western India, as per popular belief, the one from Ratnagiri in Maharashtra is considered to be of the best quality.
Interestingly, Alphonso mangoes were named after Alfonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515 CE), the man who conquered Goa, usurping it from the Bijapur Sultanate in 1510 CE and establishing a vast Portuguese maritime empire that stretched from Hormuz in Oman to Java and Sumatra He was even conferred the title of the ‘Duke of Goa’ by the Portuguese kings, owing to his exploits.
Today, Alphonso mangoes are still very popular and exported around the world. The US famously struck a trade deal with India in 2007, for the export of these mangoes in exchange for their Harley Davidson bikes. Now that is quite a treat!
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