Flora of Indonesia

Deep purple

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 May, 2009, 12:00am

The mangosteen is an unassuming-looking fruit. To those who have never tried one, it seems a mystery: how do you get inside? The purple shell is firm and smooth with no gaps in which to insert a knife to pry it open, and even the leaves and stem seem unyielding.

It's actually quite easy with the right technique: put the fruit between the palms of your hands, press firmly on opposite sides and the mangosteen will split open to reveal off-white, unevenly sized segments. Mangosteen connoisseurs know to examine the 'flower' at the base of the fruit; the number of petals on the flower indicates the number of segments in the mangosteen. The more segments the better because the smaller segments are seedless, or have small, tender and edible seeds.

The mangosteen is considered the 'queen of fruit' while the durian is 'the king'. There could not be a more opposite pairing. While the durian is bold, brash and distinctive - in appearance, smell and taste - the mango- steen is soft, sweet, elusive and subtly seductive; it's extremely difficult to describe the taste and scent because it's unlike any other fruit.

Take care when opening the mangosteen because the purple shell stains cloth. The leaves sometimes harbour bugs, so rinse the fruit well before serving.

Mangosteen products include juice and canned fruit. Some brands of the commercial juice are quite good, although they can be difficult to find.

It's easy enough to make your own juice by pureeing mangosteen segments with some sugar syrup and fresh lemon juice, which balances the added sugar and also slows down the oxidation of the fruit, which darkens when exposed to air. The mixture can be frozen to make a sorbet.