Produce Profiles: G - M
Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Dating back over 5,000 years, it is believed to have its origins in central Asia. Garlic flourished during the time of the Pharaohs and played an important role in the Egyptian culture. The ancient Roman and Greek civilizations embraced garlic due to its perceived strength-enhancing properties as well as for culinary and therapeutic purposes. Exploration and migration have, over time, spread the use of garlic to nearly every corner of the globe.
China is far and away the leader in the production of garlic accounting for over 77% of the world’s total. The United States is fifth in the production of garlic. Much of this is centered around Gilroy, California, the self-proclaimed “Garlic Capital of the World.”
This member of the Lily family and close relation to onions, leeks and chives is arranged in a head or “bulb” averaging between 1½ and 2 inches in diameter. Each bulb contains several cloves of garlic. The entire bulb of garlic is covered in thin, paper-like sheathes that can be white, off-white or slightly pinkish in color.
Elephant garlic, a larger variety of garlic, is more closely related to leek. Even though it is larger, it is actually milder in taste and does not possess all of the health benefits of regular garlic.
While garlic flakes, garlic powder and garlic pastes are available, and at times more convenient, purchasing fresh garlic will insure the supreme culinary experience. You will also derive the maximum health benefit from fresh garlic. Thanks to global production, fresh garlic is available year-round and maintains a very consistent price.
Fresh garlic bulbs should be firm and the skin should be unbroken. A gentle squeeze between your fingers will enable you to gauge its firmness. Avoid garlic that is soft or moldy or that has begun to sprout.
Fresh garlic should be stored in a cool, dark place like a kitchen cupboard or pantry either uncovered or in a loosely-covered container. Garlic bulbs will keep from two weeks to upwards of two months depending on their age at time of purchase. It is not necessary to refrigerate garlic and while peeled garlic cloves can be frozen, it is not recommended as it drastically alters the flavor profile.
Preparation and Uses
Before you can use garlic, you need to separate the individual cloves from the bulb. One way of accomplishing this is to place the bulb on a cutting board and apply pressure with the palm of your hand until the skin that holds the bulb together breaks and the cloves separate. The next step is to separate the skin from the individual cloves. Place a clove, smooth side down, on a cutting board and tap it with the flat side of a wide knife. This will break the skin and allow you to remove it with your fingers or a small paring knife.
Garlic can be used raw or cooked. It can be sautéed, roasted, sliced, crushed, pureed and minced. From sauces to soups, side dishes to main courses, it is one of the most widely-used ingredients in cooking today. Garlic will transform any meal into a bold, aromatic and healthy culinary experience.
Garlic is a very good source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C and a good source of selenium. It is also an excellent source of manganese.
Garlic is loaded with an assortment of sulfur-containing compounds which, in addition to being responsible for garlic's characteristically pungent odor, are also the source of many of its health-promoting effects. Garlic is reported to have a positive influence on cardiovascular heath, helping to lower blood pressure and possibly even reduce cholesterol. It also is reputed to possess anti-inflammatory and antibacterial characteristics.
Grapes were first cultivated in Iran over 6,000 years ago. From there, they spread across the northern coast of the Mediterranean to southern Europe. Eventually, grapes made their way to the United States. In California, Spanish missionaries began cultivating grapes in the early 1700s and today California produces 97% of the nation’s commercially-grown table grapes.
While table grapes are available all year long, thanks to production in Southern Hemisphere countries such as Chile, Brazil and South Africa, it is the California summer grape crop that grape-lovers look forward to each year. The grape harvest in California begins in May and lasts long into the fall with “storage” grapes available through December. The harvest volume increases throughout the summer with new varieties coming into play each month until its peak sometime in August.
Table grapes can be grouped into three categories based on color: green (which is also known as white), red and black (or blue). The vast majority of table grapes are seedless varieties; however, there are several notable seeded varieties that are also quite popular. With all of the varieties available to the consumer, one is sure to find a favorite flavor profile.
Listed below are several of the most popular varieties:
Perlette: An early-season green variety that is round in shape, light green in color and medium sized. Perlettes are available May through August.
Superior Seedless: Also called a Sugraone, this large, elongated variety is available late May through August. These popular, bright green grapes are very sweet and crunchy.
Thompson Seedless: This is by far the most popular table grape representing over a third of the entire table grape crop. These light green, slightly-oval grapes are sweet, crisp and juicy.
Flame Seedless: The red counterpart to the Thompson, this is the second most abundant grape variety. Flames are dark red, round in shape and medium to large in size. They have a sweet-tart flavor profile and are very crisp and juicy. Flames are available from mid-May through late fall and often into December.
Ruby Seedless: As the name implies, ruby in color, these medium-sized grapes are slightly oval and very sweet. They are a late summer favorite that usually appears at the beginning of August with availability through December.
Crimson Seedless: This is a pale red variety that is cylindrical in shape. It is also a late-summer offering with a season that parallels the Ruby Seedless.
Holiday Seedless: These extremely large, red grapes are a late variety that matures in the fall and is only available into late November. The fruit is sweet and crisp.
Christmas Rose: This is a relatively new seeded red variety that is available form August through November. The dark red, oval berries are quite large with a sweet-tart flavor.
Red Globe: The Red Globe and its cousin, the Black Globe, are seeded varieties. These extremely large, oval-shaped grapes have become quite popular. With excellent taste and eye-popping size, they are available from July through December.
Midnight Seedless: This is Sun World’s brand name for the Sugarthirteen variety. These spectacular black grapes are very large and very sweet. They are available from May through September.
Fantasy Seedless: Blue-black in color, this large, oval grape is available from June through October.
Champagne: This is the common name given to Black Corinth grapes. These diminutive grapes, about one fourth inch in diameter, are the smallest seedless variety and are super sweet.
Harvested when ripe, grapes are always ready to enjoy. There are two guides for selecting grapes, stems and color. Grapes should be firmly attached to the stems and, quite simply, the greener the stem is, the fresher the grapes will be. Avoid bags where many grapes have fallen off the stems. Color is the second thing to consider. Green grapes that have a hint of amber rather than very dark green will be sweeter. Select red grapes that are dark red, with no evidence of green; and black or blue grapes should also be dark with no sign of green.
Refrigerate grapes in the plastic bag or container in which they were purchased. Prior to doing so, remove any damaged or spoiled berries. Continue to remove brown or damaged berries from the bunch as long as you are storing the fruit. Grapes will normally keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Wash them just prior to use.
Preparation and Uses
Grapes can be used in a number of garden or fruit salad recipes, but perhaps the most popular way grapes are enjoyed is eating them out of hand as a snack. Preparation is simply a matter of washing and removing from the stem prior to serving. Avoid removing grapes from the stem and storing them for any length of time as this breaks the skin around the stem and allows an entry point for bacteria that can hasten the decay of the fruit.
Champagne grapes are often used for garnish - draped on a glass of wine or adorning a plate. Because of their small size, they are typically eaten by the bunch - stem and all.
Seedless grapes can also be frozen for a refreshing summer treat. Remove the stems and wash the fruit. Spread the berries out on a tray and place the tray in the freezer. Once the fruit is frozen (usually only a couple of hours) remove it from the freezer and place snack size portions in plastic bags. Return the bags to the freezer and take them out anytime you want a tasty and nutritious treat.
Grapes are a good source of vitamin C with one serving (1-1/2 cup) providing 25% of the Daily Recommended Allowance. A serving contains approximately 90 calories, 24 grams of carbohydrates and only one gram of fat. In addition, grapes contain several antioxidants that may help prevent cancer and heart disease.
About Grapefruit: Grapefruit are a descendant of the pummelo and believed to be an orange / pummelo hybrid. They derive their name from the way they grow on the tree in clusters or bunches similar to grapes. Although grapefruit are grown in many areas of the world including the Caribbean, South America, Mexico, Morocco, and Israel, the United States continues to dominate the industry. Florida, Texas, California and Arizona are our leading producers. Today there are numerous varieties of grapefruit including both seeded and seedless varieties with pulp colors ranging from yellowish-white to ruby red.
Florida and Texas grapefruit are available from October through May with their peak season coming from December through April. California and Arizona grapefruit are available during the summer and into early fall.
In Texas, grapefruit are grown primarily in the southern Rio Grande Valley. Two of the most popular Texas varieties, the Rio Star and Star Ruby, have a pronounced red blush with flesh that is deep red in color and very sweet. Another popular variety grown in Texas, the Ruby Red has a slight red blush on the exterior and sweet red flesh on the interior. These varieties are seedless or nearly so.
Florida is far and away the leader in grapefruit production with Star Rubies and Ruby Reds among the most popular varieties. Unlike Texas, Florida also grows Marsh White and Golden grapefruit with a yellow exterior and yellowish-white flesh. The two main growing regions in Florida are the Indian River, famed for its near perfect climate and soil for growing grapefruit, and the central or interior region of Florida.
California and Arizona grow limited quantities of grapefruit in both white and red varieties. Most grapefruit from these growing areas tend to peel easier but have less flavor intensity than their Texas and Florida counterparts.
About Pummelos: The pummelo is the largest member of the citrus family reaching sizes up to twelve inches in diameter. Native to southeastern Asia and Malaysia, it enjoys widespread popularity from the Fiji Islands where it grows wild along the riverbanks to mainland China. It is cultivated throughout southern China, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesian, New Guinea and southern Japan. It is believed that that the pummelo was first brought to the Western Hemisphere by Captain Shaddock in the 17th Century, specifically to Barbados. Hence, the name shaddock was given to fruit in the Caribbean.
The ancestor of today’s grapefruit, the pummelo has a very thick peel with flesh that varies from a pale greenish–yellow to pink or red depending on the specific variety. The outside of the mature pummelo may vary from green to yellow but this bears little connection to the taste of the fruit inside. The pummelo will usually have between 16 and 18 segments, whereas a grapefruit usually has about 12 segments. The flavor is very similar to grapefruit but less acidic and somewhat sweeter. Pummelos contain far less juice than a grapefruit.
About Oroblancos: Grown almost exclusively in California, oroblancos are a cross between an acidless pummelo and a white grapefruit. It is a relative newcomer that was developed by the University of California in their Riverside research facility. Oroblancos are available from late October through March. They have a very thick rind and their exterior varies from bright green early in their season to yellow as the season progresses. The oroblanco’s flesh is golden-yellow in color. Their flavor has been described as similar to that of a grapefruit with sugar added. They peel and section easily and can be eaten like an orange.
Look for fruit that is firm, clean and free of bruises. Fruit from Florida will, however, have the characteristic “wind scaring” from the ocean breezes. Grapefruit should be heavy in the hand indicating an abundance of juice. As the season progresses, they will get even heavier. Pummelos and oroblancos will not be proportionately as heavy since they contain less juice.
All of these citrus varieties will store for up to a week on the kitchen counter but for longer storage, they should be refrigerated.
Preparation and Uses
Grapefruit, oroblancos and pummelos are considered by many to be “breakfast” food, however, there are a number of recipes that utilize these citrus varieties in salads and in cooking. For example, halves of grapefruit or problancos can be sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon, lightly broiled in the oven and served hot as an appetizer. Pummelo and avocado compliment each other and make an excellent salsa. They can all be peeled and segmented to add to fruit salads or cut in half and eaten directly out of their “shell” with a serrated grapefruit spoon. Grapefruit are also excellent to juice.
As with other citrus, these varieties all contain an abundant amount of vitamin C. Half of a medium grapefruit provides over 100% of the RDA. In addition, they are a good source for vitamin A and dietary fiber. They also contain thiamin, folate and traces of several other important nutrients. These citrus offerings are a dieter’s delight with around 60 calories per serving, no fat and relatively low carbohydrates.
With its russeted, wind-scared skin, this rather unattractive member of the Mandarin family also happens to be the sweetest, thus it is marketed under the name Honey tangerine. Grown domestically only in Florida, this popular fruit is officially named a Murcott after nurseryman Charles Murcott Smith. It is most likely a cross between a tangerine and a sweet orange. Honey tangerines are available from January through March. The skin of this citrus variety is very thin and peels easily although not as easy as some varieties such as Clementines. The incredibly sweet flesh of the Honey tangerine is bright orange in color, has a modest number of seeds and is extremely juicy.
Select fruit that is heavy for its size as it will contain the most juice. Avoid soft, puffy or shriveled fruit. Scaring and russeting are normal for this citrus variety.
While Honey tangerines will keep for a few days on the kitchen counter, storage in the refrigerator is recommended.
Preparation and Uses
Honey tangerines can be easily peeled and segmented for eating out of hand. They also add a special touch to a romaine or spinach salad. They can also be used any number of dessert recipes. A favorite use of the Honey tangerine is for juice, with one Honey tangerine normally yielding one-half cup of juice. For a more adventurous treat, you may want to try a Honey Tangerine Martini.
The nutritional characteristics of the Honey tangerine parallel that of many other citrus varieties. They are high in vitamin C and fiber with no fat or cholesterol and relatively few calories.
The kiwifruit, or simple “kiwi,” is a relative newcomer to the supermarkets of America. Originating in China, these small, fuzzy fruits did not find their way to our shores until 1958. Originally imported from New Zealand, the first domestic kiwifruit crop was not harvested in California until 1970 and it wasn’t until the late 1970s that kiwifruit began to be widely accepted by the American consumer. Currently, it is listed as one of the top twenty fruits consumed in the United States. Today, Italy is the number one producer of kiwifruit followed by New Zealand and Chile. The United States ranks number seven in kiwifruit production.
The most common variety of kiwifruit is the Hayward kiwi. This small, oval-shaped fruit with brown fuzzy skin contains semi-translucent, emerald green flesh with a white center surrounded by a speckling of small black seeds. Its creamy green flesh has a refreshing taste suggesting a mixture of strawberries and bananas, yet with its own unique sweet flavor.
As kiwifruit has gained popularity, other varieties have begun to appear in supermarket produce departments. Most notable is gold kiwifruit or Hinabelle variety. This smooth-skinned, yellow-flesh variety is sweeter and less acidic than its green counterpart and has more “tropical” undertones. Smooth-skinned varieties that are the size of grapes and whose flesh has a yellow-green hue, often marketed as “Baby Kiwi,” are also available.
Kiwifruit are available throughout the year, thanks to their global popularity and production. When selecting kiwifruit, check for ripeness by gently squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger. If they yield to gentle pressure they are ripe. Avoid fruit that is very soft, shriveled or have bruised spots. Size in no way relates to maturity or ripeness, so you can select fruit based on your needs or individual preferences. Kiwifruit that are not ripe can be left out to ripen at room temperature. Placing them in a paper bag with a banana, pear or other ethylene-producing fruit will shorten their ripening time.
Ripe kiwifruits can be stored for a day or two at room temperature, however, the ideal storage temperature for kiwifruit is between 45 and 50 degrees. Place them in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. Ripe kiwifruit will keep for several days and unripe fruit will keep for several weeks when stored in this manner.
Preparation and Uses
Kiwifruit is a delicious treat simply eaten out of hand. The fuzz on the skin can easily be rubbed off and the entire fruit can be eaten giving you the benefit of additional fiber and nutrients in the skin. If you prefer, kiwi can be peeled and sliced. Another popular way to eat them is to cut them in half and scoop out the delicious flesh with a spoon.
One important thing to note is that the enzymes in kiwifruit are a natural food tenderizer. In fact, kiwifruit can be used as a meat tenderizer by simply cutting them in half and rubbing them on the meat prior to cooking. Because of these very active enzymes, kiwifruit should be added to dishes like fruit salad at the last minute to avoid making the other ingredients soft.
In addition to eating out of hand, perhaps the most common use for kiwi is in fresh fruit salad. While cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, blueberries, oranges and pineapple all combine well with kiwifruit, their flavor compliments strawberries particularly well. To liven up a tossed green salad or spinach salad, top them off with a few slices of fresh kiwifruit.
From a nutritional standpoint, kiwifruit is outstanding. Two medium kiwifruit contain only 90 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrates, no sodium, no cholesterol and only trace amounts of fat. However, what they do provide is almost 240% of the daily requirement for vitamin C, almost as much potassium as a banana and 16% of the RDA for fiber. They are also a good source of vitamin E.
Kumquats are the fruit of a small evergreen tree known by the same name. Native to China and Indochina, these trees are grown for ornamental purposes as well as agricultural use. In the United States they are cultivated in Florida and California. Arguments have existed for decades as to whether or not they were actually a citrus fruit; however, the latest evidence now makes them the smallest member of the citrus genus.
Kumquats are normally bright orange in color but can vary from yellow to red. They measure from 1 to 1½ inches in length and are usually oval in shape although some varieties are round. Kumquats are generally in season from mid-October through mid-March. What makes kumquats truly unique in the citrus world is their contradictory sweet skin and rather tart flesh.
When selecting kumquats one should look for fruit that is fairly firm giving consideration for its size. The skin should be free of scares or surface imperfections and they should vary in color between full yellow and red with no green which is a sign of immaturity. They are usually marketed in plastic containers, small mesh bags or simply offered bulk. Often they will have one or two leaves attached as they are sometimes used for decorative purposes.
Kumquats can be stored for up to a week at room temperature and two weeks in the refrigerator.
Preparation and Uses
Unlike any other citrus, Kumquats are most often eaten out of hand skin and all (except the one or two seeds). The trick is to gently roll the fruit between your fingers to release the oils just prior to putting it in your mouth. It is also quite common to just eat the skin.
Kumquats can be cooked in any number of recipes adding flavor to everything from pork to poultry. They can be used in a variety of desserts and even sliced on a fresh garden salad for some added zest. They can be pickled, candied and made into delicious marmalade, preserves or jelly. Kumquats are also used as a garnish and incorporated into table decorations especially during the Christmas season.
Kumquats provide a good source of vitamins A and C along with dietary fiber. They also contain trace amounts of iron and calcium. With no fat and no cholesterol and at approximately 12 calories each, these diminutive citrus gems are a healthy snack alternative.
Lemons and Limes are two familiar citrus fruits that rarely are eaten out of hand. Rather, their popularity is inclined toward that of a flavoring or ingredient with other foods. Both of these fruits have been in use for centuries in tropical and subtropical cultures around the world.
The lemon is thought to have originated in the subtropical plateaus of India and spread to Italy and other Mediterranean countries between 200AD and 1000AD. Christopher Columbus carried lemon seeds to the New World. Today, California and Arizona produce 95% of the United Sates lemon crop. Bright yellow in color, lemons can vary from the size of a golf ball to that of a baseball and are commonly sold individually as well as in 2 lb. and 3 lb. bags.
Limes are believed to be native to Southeast Asia or perhaps India and are the smallest member of the true citrus family. While they proliferate in tropical climates, currently the top lime-producing counties are the United States, Mexico, Italy, Spain and India. In today’s supermarket we find two distinct varieties of limes: the dark green Persian variety and the smaller, yellow-green Key Lime variety. Key limes are smaller than Persian limes, similar in size to a ping-pong ball. Florida, Texas and California are this country’s leading producers with Mexico also being an important source.
Lemons, Persian limes and Key limes all are available year around. Select lemons that are firm and free of major bruises. Some scaring from limb rubs may be present, however, without affecting the fruit. Persian limes should be dark green, while Key limes should be yellow to pale green- both should have shiny skin. Avoid limes that have brown areas or that have dry, hard skin.
Lemons and limes can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several weeks. You can also freeze the juice and store it for up to four months.
Preparation and Uses
The uses of lemons and limes are many and varied. They can both be used as flavorings or marinades for meat and seafood dishes. A squeeze of lemon instead of salad dressing on a garden salad will add flavor and eliminate calories. A favorite dessert among Floridians (and many non-Floridians) is Key Lime Pie.
The zest, or grated outer skin, of both is used in numerous recipes. Be sure to thoroughly wash the fruit before removing the zest. Slices and juice from lemons and limes are used extensively to flavor an array of beverages. To extract more juice from a lemon or lime let them warm to room temperature then roll them on the kitchen counter with the heel of your hand just prior to juicing.
There are also many non-food uses for lemons such as a room air freshener. A bowl of lemons will add a refreshing fragrance to a room for several days. Lemon juice mixed with baking soda will also remove stains from brass, copper and stainless steel.
Both lemons and limes are very low in calories at 15 and 20 calories per serving respectively. Lemons contain slightly more vitamin C than limes -- 40% of the RDA verses 35%. Neither contains cholesterol or fat.
There are numerous varieties of lettuce or “salad greens” as they are often referred to available in the market today. The wild predecessor of modern lettuce is believed to have grown along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea more than 2,000 years ago. The Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultures all embraced these wild greens. Today, lettuce in numerous varieties is consumed throughout the world. While most of the world eats these lettuces raw, some cultures, most notable the Chinese, typically eat these leafy vegetables cooked.
Lettuce, in all of its varied forms, is a temperate crop that we find in many summer gardens across the United States. Commercially, California is far and away our leading supplier of variety lettuces accounting for over 75% of all production. With year-round availability, these colorful, tasty, healthy salad greens can be a part of everyone’s diet.
As mentioned above there is a diverse assortment of these leafy vegetables from which to choose. Listed below are several of the more popular varieties that can be found in most supermarkets.
Green Leaf: Green Leaf grows from a central stalk in a V-shape, loosely bunched ending in a crisp, curly leaf. It is very mild and its decorative nature lends itself to being a popular garnish.
Red Leaf: A cousin to Green Leaf, its leaves transition from green to red it the tip. It has the same taste with slightly softer leaves.
Romaine: This is an upright, elongated bunched variety with a fairly compact head. One of the most popular of all variety lettuces, it is the main ingredient in Caesar salad. The medium to dark green leaves are very crisp the midrib is especially delicious.
Red Romaine: This variety of Romaine lettuce has dark green leaves that fade to red at the tips. While still crisp, it is tenderer than the green variety of Romaine.
Bibb: A round head type lettuce with loose outer leaves. This is a variety of Boston or Butter lettuce that was developed in Kentucky by John Bibb. The leaves of Bibb lettuce are extremely tender and soft so they need to be handled with care. It has a very delicate flavor.
Butter: Also known as Boston lettuce, this is very similar to Bibb lettuce but with wider, leaves that are lighter green in color. Butter lettuce is so named because of the soft leaves that melt in your mouth like butter. Butter Lettuce has a delicate, sophisticated flavor and is often paired with fruits in its presentation.
Red Butter: Red Boston is any other name given to this variety of lettuce. It has the same characteristics of texture and flavor as its green counterpart with leaves that fade to a light red at the tips.
Endive: This lettuce grows in a loose, V-shaped head similar to Green or Red Leaf. The leaves are very curly, almost frizzy or lacy, in appearance. They fade from green to white as they get closer to the center of the head. Endive has a slightly bitter taste.
Escarole: This is actually a variety of Endive. Escarole has pale green leaves that are broad and curly. The taste is somewhat milder than Endive.
Look for heads that have fresh-looking leaves that are not wilted or broken. There should be no brown spots or evidence of decay and the very tips of the leaves should have little or no brown (called tip burn). The stalks of the leaves should not be russeted. Varieties that have thicker leaves, like Romaine and Escarole, should be quite crisp.
Variety lettuces should always be refrigerated. Most often they are purchased in a plastic bag or perforated wrapper. Leave them in the open plastic bag or wrapper and place them in the crisper draw of your refrigerator. Avoid commingling them with fruit as the natural ethylene gas given off by pears, apples and the like will cause the lettuce to russet. Avoid crushing delicate varieties such as Boston, Bibb or Red Leaf.
Preparation and Uses
Without a doubt the single most popular use for variety lettuce is in fresh garden salads. However, they find their way into many a sandwich or hamburger and are often used simply as a garnish. As mentioned before, certain varieties are also braised or cooked in some fashion.
Handle these greens gently, breaking off only as many leaves as you need for the occasion at hand. Wash the leaves thoroughly in a stream of cold water then pat dry with a paper towel. An inexpensive investment for those that prepare a lot of fresh lettuce salads is a “salad spinner” to remove the water. When preparing a salad, it is preferred to tear the leaves with your hands rather than use a knife. Using a knife will cut the cell walls and cause the lettuce to discolor. Once the leaves have been washed and broken apart, they can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for one or two days.
While it is true that variety lettuces are mostly water, they do contain a number of important nutrients. They all contain varying amounts of vitamins A and C as well as several trace minerals like calcium and iron. As you might expect, variety lettuces are all very low in calories.
The mango is said to be the most consumed fruit in the world. Dating back over 4,000 years with origins in Southeast Asia or Eastern India, there are now over 1,000 varieties of mangoes worldwide. India leads the world in production with the vast majority of its fruit being consumed domestically. While mangoes are grown in Florida and California, Mexico is the leader in mango exportation and our leading source of fruit. Other countries we get mangoes from include Brazil, Guatemala, Venezuela and several Caribbean countries. As a result they are now available to us year-round.
The taste of a mango is often described as a cross between a peach and a pineapple. Sweet and delicious, the fruit of the mango tree varies immensely in character depending on the particular variety. Some varieties have firm flesh similar to a cantaloupe, while others are soft and spongy like a very ripe plum. In some mangoes, the flesh is very fibrous while others, it is nearly fiber free.
Here are some of the main commercially grown varieties:
Kent: Large yellowish-green fruit with a red blush. The flesh is free of fiber and slices clean to the pit. It is a soft mango that should not be squeezed to determine ripeness.
Tommy Atkins: Medium to large size fruit that has thick skin and a medium amount of fiber. It is yellowish-orange with a purple or red blush.
Haden: A variety with mild flavor and only a small amount of fiber that can grow quite large. It is red to orange in color with a yellowish background.
Ataulfo: A very new variety that is grown extensively in Mexico. The greenish-yellow skin of this small fruit turns golden in color when ripe. It has a very rich, sweet, creamy flesh and virtually no fiber. The pit is also quite small.
When selecting mangoes, one should look for fruit that is plump, fairly firm and free of major blemishes (although a few black spots are typical of ripe fruit). Color is not always a good indicator of ripeness since different varieties vary from green to orange to red, however, the best tasting fruit will have a yellow tinge when ripe. There are two methods of determining when a mango is ripe – smelling and squeezing. The stem end will emit a rich, fruity aroma when ripe and a mango will yield to gentle pressure, similar to a peach, when ripe. Either method will work.
When properly stored, a mango may last a week or more. Being of tropical origin, mangoes are best stored at room temperature with 55 degrees being the optimal, although not always practical, storage temperature. Mangoes can be ripened in a paper bag on the kitchen counter, but check them daily for ripeness. Never refrigerate a mango until it is ripe and then only for a couple of days.
Preparation and Uses
In addition to enjoying in fresh fruit salads and eating them out of hand, there are numerous recipes for mangoes. From salsas to sauces, smoothies to seafood, pies to poultry, they can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways.
Perhaps the single biggest challenge for most people is how to get at the delicious flesh inside a mango. Here are a number of options:
Slicing: With a sharp flexible knife, cut off both ends of the mango. Stand it on end and peel away the skin with the knife. Cut the remaining fruit into slices by carving slices along the length of the pit.
Spooning: Stand the mango on end and slice the “cheeks” of the fruit from each side of the pit. Using a melon ball tool or spoon remove the flesh from the skin.
Cubing: As in the method above, remove the cheeks from the fruit. Carefully score the flesh into ½ to ¾ inch cubes without cutting through the skin. Turn the skin inside out and slice off the cubes (similar to filleting a fish).
On a fork: Slice just through the skin crosswise at the top of the mango. Pull the skin back in quarters or eighths. Drive a fork into the bottom of the mango along the curve of the pit. Peel the skin off and eat it like a Popsicle.
A word of caution: mangoes are distantly related to poison ivy and the mango skin contains traces of urushiol. This can, in rare instances, cause a reaction.
Mangoes are an excellent source of both vitamin A and vitamin C. They are also a good source of Potassium and even contain small amounts of protein. Mangoes are ver y high in fiber (up to 40% of the Recommended Daily Requirement) and contain only about 110 calories in an average size piece of fruit. They also contain several antioxidants.
Thanks to globalization of the Produce industry, the variety of melons available today is virtually endless. Cantaloupe, Athena cantaloupe and watermelon are by far the most common melon found in today’s supermarket; however, there are also several varieties of melons that we find during the summer that are becoming increasingly popular. Most of these melons are grown in California and Arizona.
Here is a brief description of a few of the more popular melons:
Casaba: A round melon with rich yellow skin and white flesh. Because of their thick rind they have very little aroma. Avoid fruit that is excessively green. They are available June through October.
Crenshaw: These rich yellow melons are slightly elongated and can get very large - up to ten pounds. With a sweet and uniquely spicy flavor, Crenshaw melons are a cross between a Persian and Casaba melon. They are available June through October.
Juan Canary: As the name implies these melons are canary yellow in color. The skin of a ripe Juan Canary will have a waxy feel to it and show no trace of green. They are available late June through October.
Honeydew: Honeydews are arguably the sweetest of all melons when they are fully ripe. Melons with a creamy yellow color and slightly waxy feel will be the ripest. The stem end should have some give to it and often the seeds will rattle if the melon is shaken. Honeydew melons are available year around, but summer is the peak time for domestic production with Mexico supplying us fruit in the winter.
Orange Flesh Honeydew: These melons have the same characteristics as honeydew. The only difference is a slight orange tinge to the fruit.
Persian: These are similar in appearance to a cantaloupe, but with finely textured netting. Their season runs from June to September peaking in July.
Santa Claus: Elongated like a football with pronounced mottled yellow and green skin and creamy white flesh, this is the most distinctive of the variety melons. Normally available from late June through October, their thick rind allows them to be stored for several months, hence the name Santa Claus or Christmas melon.
When you are selecting fruit, look for melons that are heavy for their size as they will be the ripest. Pick-up two melons of similar size and compare them - then choose the heaviest. Melons should be neither too firm nor too soft and there should be no major blemishes or cuts on the skin.
Whole melons can be kept for a day or two at room temperature to ripen. Once ripe, they can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days. Cut melons can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days in the refrigerator.
Preparation and Uses
As with any melon, the surface should be thoroughly washed with soapy water prior to cutting. After cutting the melon in half and removing the seeds, all of these flavorful melons can be used in a variety of ways. They can be sliced, cubed, quartered or scooped out with a melon baller. They make a great addition to a fruit salad; they can be pureed in a cold melon soup, made into a melon boat or simply cut into slices and eaten out of hand. For a zesty treat, season your favorite melon with cayenne pepper.
While relatively low in calories and carbohydrates, because of the differing sugar content, the actual values vary greatly from variety to variety. However, one thing they all have in common is that they all are excellent sources for vitamin C and potassium. They also contain no fat or cholesterol.
Cara Cara Navel Oranges: The Cara Cara navel is a very special orange. A South American citrus variety, it gets its name from Hacienda de Cara Cara in Valencia, Venezuela where it was first discovered in 1976. They were originally introduced to the citrus industry in Florida and later to California. From the outside they look just like any other navel orange and just like other navel oranges they are seedless. However, unlike a traditional orange, the Cara Cara is pink inside, very similar in color to a ruby red grapefruit. The flavor profile is very sweet with low acid and a hint of cherry. These sweet-eating citrus gems are available from Florida in November and from California in late December. Their season usually runs through March.
Moro Oranges: Moro oranges, sometimes referred to as “blood oranges”, have been popular in Southern Europe and North Africa for years. They were brought to this country by Italian and Spanish immigrants in the 1930s but it’s only been in recent years that they have gained any real popularity in the United States. The sunny valleys of California have proven to be ideal for the Moro and it has flourished since its introduction. Moro oranges trend to run small to medium in size and contain very few seeds. While the outside of the Moro is orange in color and looks similar to a Valencia, the inside is a distinctive deep burgundy color thus the reference to “blood orange.” The flavor can best be described as a rich orange taste with raspberry undertones. They are truly unique.
When selecting these two very special oranges, look for fruit that is firm and heavy in the hand. They should be relatively blemish free, although the Florida Cara Cara will have the normal wind abrasions found on virtually all Florida citrus.
Like most citrus, Cara Cara navels and Moro oranges will keep for a few days at room temperature. For longer periods of storage, the refrigerator should hold the fruit for up to two weeks. They should never be frozen.
Preparation and Uses
Eating out of hand is the most popular method of consumption, however, for a real treat try juicing either the Cara Cara or Moro orange. But remember, fresh-squeezed juice spoils rapidly and should be used within 24 hrs. Moro oranges can add a special flavor to salads, salsas and chutneys as well.
In general all oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C, contain fiber and are a respectable source of potassium. Cara Cara navels and Moro oranges are no different. As an added benefit, the red pigment in Moro oranges contains anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant. Research has suggested that antioxidants are important in fighting cancer as well as other diseases.
Mushrooms are a plant that grows from a spore rather than a seed. In technical terms, it is the above–ground, fruiting body of a fungus. While that may not sound appealing to some, mushrooms are among the most flavorful and versatile of all vegetables, having been around since the time of the Pharaohs. The Pharaohs were so enthralled with their flavor that they banned “commoners” from touching them, thus insuring an adequate supply of this delicacy for themselves. In the United States, mushroom farming started in earnest in 1896 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Today nearly 60% of all the mushrooms grown in the United States come from Pennsylvania. California ranks a distant second in production at 14%. A testament to their popularity, the per capita consumption of mushrooms in the United States is nearly three pounds annually.
There are more than 38,000 varieties of mushrooms, however, only about 2,500 are actually harvested for consumption and, of those, only a handful make up nearly all of the US consumption. Here are some of the most popular varieties:
White: Accounting for approximately 85% of all mushroom consumption, it is by far the most popular variety. Ranging in size from button to upwards of 3 inches in diameter, it is available bulk as well as in a variety of packaging options including whole, sliced, and caps. As these mushrooms darken and the veil opens, they take on a richer flavor. Use them raw in salads; sautéed, grilled or stuffed for appetizers.
Crimini: They are similar in shape to white mushrooms but tan to dark brown in color. They have a richer, earthier flavor than whites and can be substituted in any recipe calling for white mushrooms. They are excellent with beef.
Portabellas: A relative of the Crimini and white mushroom, it can grow to impressive size. Portabellas up to 6 inches in diameter are common. Again, tan to dark brown, they have a dense meaty texture and flavor. This “meaty” attribute makes them a popular ingredient in vegetarian sandwiches and entrees. Portabellas are excellent for stuffing as well as in sauces and soups. A variety of package choices are available.
Shiitake: Tan to dark brown in color, they look similar to a Crimini but they have an umbrella-shaped cap with an open veil. Once cooked, this rather spongy variety becomes meaty and takes on a woodsy flavor. The stem of these mushrooms is, in fact, quite woody so it is best to remove it before use. Great for stir fry, pasta and soup.
Enoki: This mushroom is unique in that it appears almost flower-like with a cluster of long stems ending in small caps. They store almost twice as long as most other varieties - up to 14 days. Enoki mushrooms are used raw in salads and as a garnish. They have a mild flavor and are slightly crunchy.
Oyster: With a delicately fluted cap and color that ranges from gray to light brown, these mushrooms have a very mild flavor and soft texture. They are best used in cooking and are a great alternative for white mushrooms. They go especially well with chicken, pork and seafood.
At the supermarket, look for mushrooms that are free of major blemishes and spots. They should be dry but not dried out and they should look smooth and fresh. The thin membrane under the cap, known as the veil, has more to do with flavor than freshness. A closed veil indicates a delicate flavor and an open veil indicates a richer, more robust flavor.
Mushrooms should always be stored in the refrigerator. Unopened packages will store for several days, but once they are opened, it is best to store them in a porous paper bag to allow moisture to escape. Avoid air-tight containers and handle them gently as mushrooms bruise very easily. Mushrooms do not freeze well.
Preparation and Uses
Never wash mushrooms until just prior to using them. Rinse with cold water making sure to remove any soil particles, then pat dry with a paper towel. Following washing, mushrooms can be used as they are, although you may want to trim the stem if roots are present. They can be used whole, sliced or chopped and the variety of recipes available for mushrooms is virtually endless. Sautéing is the simplest form of preparation, but they can also be roasted, grilled and even microwaved. In fact, microwaving requires no oil or butter and an eight-ounce, covered bowl of thickly-sliced mushrooms takes just two to three minutes to prepare in the microwave.
Mushrooms contain limited amounts of several B vitamins, potassium, copper and selenium. Their biggest nutritional asset is the fact that they are a versatile, low-calorie, fat-free food that add superb flavor to an abundant variety of foods.