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Here's How Hawaii Celebrates Its Favorite Seasonal Fruit

Mango tree in Hawaii
Mango tree in Hawaii | © Forest and Kim Starr / Flickr
As summer rolls around, most people anticipate long days at the beach, but locals in Hawaii are eagerly awaiting one thing: mango season.

May through October is a special time of the year in the Aloha State. Mango trees are full of fruit and slowly turn shades of lavender and fuchsia. The sweet aroma of mangos fill the air and the juicy fruits become the highlight of local events and farmer’s markets throughout the islands.

Find all things mango at The Mango Cafe © Hamza Butt / Flickr

This year’s mango craze kicked off at the Honolulu Mango Jam last month. Local music icons Kalapana and Kapena Kids took the main stage, while guests browsed the tents filled with crafts, lei, clothes, and snacks. Maile Alau from Hawaii Maoli—one of the event’s organizers—shared how the yellow fruit is woven into island culture.

“Everyone in Hawaii finds a way to make the mango work for them, they’ll make different things with it like salsa, açaí bowls, jam, mochi, and mango bread,” Alau told KHON2 News. “Mango brings all the cultures in Hawaii together through one happy little fruit.” The local favorite was served up dried, pickled, and fresh at the mango market, while the highlight of the festival was the mango recipe contest and the mango BBQ cook-off.

History

The first mango plants were brought to Hawaii from India and the Philippines in the early 1800s and flourished in the sunny, tropical climate. Today, there are many varieties of mangos in the islands, each with their own distinct flavor and texture. Pirie, Haden, Rapoza, Gouveia, and Golden Glow are some of the most popular varieties, but if you ask any Hawaii resident, they will quickly tell you which they prefer.

How mangos are celebrated in Hawaii today

Mango trees are a favorite for Hawaii backyards, since they provide lots of shade from the hot, tropical sun, and tons of succulent rouge-colored fruit. Locals anticipate that friends, neighbors, and coworkers without a tree will start inquiring if the fruit is ripe once summer comes around. Today, mango season brings about a strong sense of family, community, and sharing—especially on Hawaii’s less populated islands. Residents will ask to pick fruits from the tree next door and prepare pickled green mangos to offer to their neighbors in return.

With the typical mature tree producing hundreds of mangos—sometimes all ripening at the same time—fruit lovers need to get creative. Although there’s nothing like eating a freshly picked ice cold mango on a hot day, locals also enjoy the fruit in smoothies, açaí bowls, salad dressing, preserves, chutney, marinades, sauces, fruit leather, and pies. Sour crunchy pickled mango is a beloved snack made by soaking the fruit in vinegar, sugar, and li hing mui (a sour and salty dried plum). Another popular variation is pickling green mango in soy sauce and vinegar, which produces an explosion of opposing sweet and salty flavors. Most families also have their own moist mango bread recipe and will claim that theirs is the best.

The mango hype also appears on seasonal restaurant menus throughout the islands. Fish Hopper in Kailua-Kona is known for their numerous mango dishes. Sesame-crusted ahi salad with chunks of fresh mango and papaya, grilled teriyaki chicken with mango papaya relish, and macadamia nut mahi mahi topped with mango salsa are just a few of their fruity regional specialties.

Mahi mahi with mango salsa © Hungry Dudes / Flickr

How to get the most out of mango season

If you can’t get enough of Hawaii’s favorite fruit, Oahu will show off all things mango at the iconic Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki on Saturday, July 14. There is a full day of activities planned for the Annual Mangoes at the Moana festival, going on its tenth year. The oceanfront courtyard will be transformed into a mango-inspired artesian market. Those with a sweet tooth will love the baked goods and treats on offer, but mango isn’t just for dessert. Guest chefs will take the stage to demonstrate how to prepare some of their favorite savory dishes that incorporate Hawaii’s beloved fruit.

All mango connoisseurs can get involved in the event by tasting and judging homegrown fruit in the Best Mango Contest to crown the finest mango on the island. As the night falls, the Mangolicious Sunset Reception gets into full swing. Celebrity chefs from Oʻahu’s trendiest restaurants, like Koko Head Cafe, MW Restaurant, and The Pig & The Lady, will offer up their best recipes for the crowd to try paired with specialty cocktails by renowned mixologists—all creatively incorporating mango of course.

Chef Lee Anne Wong, owner of the popular brunch spot, Koko Head Cafe, adores the seasonal fruit and tries to use it at her restaurant whenever available. “Hawai‘i mangos, every season, are so different because of the humidity, sunshine, growing methods, when they’re picked, how long they’ve stayed on the tree, and the soil,” she said to Honolulu Magazine. “It’s incredible.” Wong will cook up some of her exceptional mango dishes at this year’s event.

The mango fever continues through the summer as residents and visitors on the Big Island get in on the festivities on July 21. The 10th Annual Mango Festival in downtown Kona focuses on the Big Island mango varieties and will showcase agricultural seminars, local artwork, cooking demonstrations, and a pop-up bakery full of local goodies to take home. Visitors can also enter their cherished family recipes incorporating mangos into the amateur recipe contest. The free event has live entertainment scheduled throughout the day with local musicians and hula performances, but in the evening, organizers will be asking for donations to attend a special benefit concert to assist those affected by the current Kilauea eruptions and animal rescuers.