As the summer heat descends, the only thoughts that keep you sane are the ones that involve eating mangoes. One cannot imagine a summer without those sweet, juicy and delicious mangoes!

Now that we are feeling the heat from all directions, each one of us has only one name on our lips – Mango. Yes, mango which is also known as the ‘king of fruits’ across India. It is sweet, delicious and its irresistible taste leaves a lasting memory in our minds. As expected, it is one of the world’s most popular fruit and naturally contains many important ingredients that are beneficial to our health. Unless you plan on bingeing – well then, that is a definite ‘No-no’ for sure!

It comes as no surprise that it is also the national fruit of India, available in plenty during summers. Summer is the season when every Indian anxiously waits for the King of Fruit. In my lifetime I’ve never heard anyone say that he/she doesn’t like the mango. Rather everyone craves for it and wishes that it would be available in all seasons. Of course, the fancy supermarkets do keep mangoes all year-round but they never taste the same as they do in the summer. The cold-storage fruit somehow is never up to the mark.

The mango is indigenous to the Indian Subcontinent especially India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia. The most famous of all the available mango varieties in India is the Alphonso, a small, yellow mango that is among the nations sweetest, costliest and the tastiest. The other popular varieties are the Khattu, with its reddish-tinged skin.

The Langda, a roundish golden variety, is a Delhi favourite, but the Hamam, a big yellow fruit, and the Kesar, small and green-tinged, have their fans as well. And those are just a few of the June varieties; by September, when the summer mango season ends, India’s groves of tall, green mango trees will have offered up more than hundreds of varieties.

People do welcome the summer season despite the scorching heat just to enjoy this delicious summer fruit. Nature has gifted us unique flavours and fruits for cooling down during the scorching summer heat in a healthy way; some of the sweetest fruits of the year are available only during this period.

In the Indian subcontinent, summers are synonymous with the mango festivals. The king of fruits temptingly blends into the country’s unique traditions with its multiple uses, apart from being a savouring delicacy. India produces some of the finest mangoes in the world, and these start to arrive when the season kicks off in April.

Now starts the battle of the mangoes as people from every region that produces the fruit and especially the varieties that are well-known and revered consider their mango the finest and look down at those that belong to other regions. The hyperbole surrounding the well-known mangoes starts…

In my opinion the Alphonso/Hapus continues to retain its No.1 spot and the Langda comes in at a close No. 2. Of course, there are many hundreds of varieties, from pulpy yellow Pairis you can slurp right out of the skins to tiny green Seelams, small and fat as a baby's fist. The other ones I look out for is the Dasheri, Chaunsa, Neelam and Kesar. When ripe, they are fat with juice, sweet as candy, the flesh so creamy and soft it can almost hold a fingerprint.

Indian mangoes have drippy, neon orange flesh and smooth skins in ombré shades of green and yellow. Though the odd one can be fibrous, tart, or fluffy, there are always a few perfect ones each season to remind me why I go crazy, each year, waiting for the mangoes to come in. I must confess that I enjoy the Totapuris and Banganapallis/Safeda too as much as I love eating the raw mangoes sprinkled with salt and chilli powder. The list is endless. It all boils down to the clichéd sentence: I love mangoes!

I was always spoilt for choice all through my childhood till a few years back as the mangoes we consumed came straight from my Grandparent’s farm. That taste lingers on in my memories as somehow the mangoes acquired from the market never have the same taste as that from your own backyard. Ask any farmer and they’ll swear by their crop. The days of yore were filled with wandering through the mango grove, scampering up the fruit laden branches and eating mangoes fresh off the tree!

Indians have a sweet tooth – that is an undisputed fact and a craving for this fruit. Mango forms a part of daily diet in the peak season. It could be in the form of a fruit salad, a mango drink like ‘lassi’, milk shakes, ‘aam panha’, ‘aam papad’, sorbets, pickles, chutneys etc.

From sweet to spicy, there’s a mango to please any palate and a mango recipe to suit every mood. Of the 18 million tons of mangoes the country produces each year, which is nearly 60 per cent of the world’s total production, a majority of it is consumed at home. As one of the world’s most popular fruits, the mango is a year-round source of the naturally sweet, refreshing taste of the tropics. Its unique flavour and fragrance is a paradise for the senses where intense fruity flavour and aroma meets versatility and nutrition.

During summers, mango festivals are held in different parts of India, presenting its diverse varieties in the forms of exhibitions and wholesome family activities. All parts of the mango tree, wood, leaf, and pit, find appropriate use in various day-to-day rituals and medicines. Mango has a high nutritional value, loaded with almost all protective nutrients like dietary fibre, vitamins C, E, D, K and B-complex, and minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron—making it more than just a regular fruit.

Its leaves carry unique significance in our Indian culture: when hung in entrances, they symbolize prosperity and good luck; mark the celebrations of a new-born in the family; and keep away evil omens as per traditions.

Go ahead… Dive into that mango… Peel it and bite in, with the juices running down the side of your mouth – let go of all the cutlery and use your hands instead. Believe you me; this is the most fulfilling way to enjoy a mango!