Poem no 399 in the Puranuru describes the sharp tangy taste of fish curry made with sour mangoes. The poet was probably speaking about the kallamai variety. Ever heard of imamapasand or banganapalli being added to curries? They are best consumed when ripe. Whereas the kallamai is more popular in its raw, tangy avatar.
It was my mother’s go-to variety whenever she made the pulikozhambu. She would ask for some ‘kozhambu maangai’ and the vendor would invariably pick the dark green fruit shaped like a parrot’s beak, the reason behind it being called totapuri or kilimooku elsewhere in the country. One long slice of it can add that much needed zing to the dish. And it also doubled up as the preferred choice for chutney/ thokku that’s a perfect combo for idlis and dosas. And then, what’s a pachad i without the tart touch of the kallamai? The piquant taste of it compliments the sweetness of the jaggery just right in a pachadi.
“Native mangoes can broadly be divided into pulima (sour) and thenma (sweet). Most of us know only about the sweet varieties while the sour ones are actually closer to the wild relative of mangoes in the forest,” says D Stephen, Associate Professor of Botany, The American College, Madurai. “The sour types retain more fibre than pulp and hence they are preferred only for pickles.”
With the arrival of the sweet, juicy varieties like aphonso and imampasandh from other States, the Tamil Nadu varieties have been relegated to the back seat, feels Suresh Kathan, a fourth generation mango farmer from Natham in Dindigul district. “Native sour varieties aren’t profitable and a lot of farmers have done away with these trees. They have planted trees of commercially successful mangoes,” he says. Until a few years ago, his farm had trees bearing kallamai mangoes but now, he too has only the sweet varieties. For, a kilogram of kallamai fetches him only a paltry ₹6. “Same is the case with most native types that are sour in taste. A lot of them have been lost because of poor demand.”
The sour types like kothakku, adai maangai , thayir kaaichi and vendhaya kaaichi have become very rare. Kothakku is a big fruit that can weigh up to two kilos and is used only for pickles, while thayir kaichi and vendhaya kaichi have a sour-sweet taste even after they ripen.
“The fruit was called thayir kaichi as the flesh inside had a turbid texture and sour taste just like curd,” says Suresh.
However, there are also farmers like Jayanth Kaliappan who take the effort to grow native mangoes apart from the commercially successful varieties. At his farm in Bodinayakkanur, he cultivates about 20 varieties of which a majority are the commercially popular ones imported from other States, while few like muttakos , thengavalli and thennampillai are native types.
“ Thennampillai, sakkara katti or kazhuthai vittai is a native mango that comes in towards the fag end of the season. The size of a gooseberry, it tastes extremely sweet. But it has more fibre and is less preferred than the pulpy varieties,” he says. “ Thengavalli is another lesser-known native type that has a velvety texture and coconut-like taste. There were also other native varieties called kuthoosi, palruti and vazhaipoo which have become extremely rare now. Though the popular demand is for fruits from other States, there’s a section of people who still come asking for native mangoes and I hope someday, more people will also turn back to the good-old varieties.”