The heat has got to the king of fruits. The Alphonso mangoes that you buy from your neighbourhood vendor may seem juicy and nice, but bite into them and you are likely to find a dry and rotten core.
HT bought Alphonsos from vendors at Hauz Khas, Safdarjung, Sarvapriya Vihar and Ansari Nagar, and found about three out of every five spoilt.
Wholesale dealers at Azadpur Mandi confirm a drop in the quality of Alphonsos reaching Delhi from its main source, Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. They say they have no choice but to sell the damaged stock to avoid losses.
Hotels are struggling with the problem too. Park Plaza in Gurgaon has stopped serving mangoes. “We have replaced mangoes with imported fruits like Japanese melon and passion fruit,” says Rajneesh Malhotra, the hotel’s general manager. Le Meridien’s vice-president (food production) Davinder Kumar says the hotel encountered a quality issue too but it was dealt with it through a series of quality checks.
But what is spoiling our Alphonsos? Food expert Jiggs Kalra says the absence of “reefers”, or refrigerated containers, in transporting the mangoes to the city is the primary reason. “Even a slight change in temperature can damage the mango,” he says.
Dr TSR Murali, a Ph D in the processing of mangoes, says Alphonsos are susceptible to a physiological disorder called "spongy tissue" that results in mangoes seeming ripe and fine on the outside even if they are rotten at the core. While studies are yet to identify any conclusive reasons for spongy tissue, what has been ascertained is that there is a greater prevalence of it in the Alphonsos from Ratnagiri.
Wholesale dealer and exporter Balvinder Narula says, “This year, the export crop of Alphonsos has been severely hit by spongy tissue, especially those routed to the US and Japan.” Narula says Delhi gets 200-250 tonnes of Alphonsos a season.
Charudutta Soman, who grows the famous Devgad Alphonso in Ratnagiri, blames fluctuating temperatures. “The temperature here was rising and then there was a sudden drop due to unseasonal showers,” he says. “This did not allow the fruit to ripen properly.” But Soman says the presence of spongy tissue — the discoloured or whitish part of a ripe mango — does not mean the mango is rotten. He says the physiological disorder occurs when a mango is over-ripe.
Another reason for Delhi receiving poor-quality mangoes, says Soman, could be the changing climatic conditions the fruit encounters when it travels the large distance. When raw mangoes are sent out from places like Devgad in Ratnagiri, there is a high chance of the ripening process going awry by the time it reaches Delhi. The ideal temperature for ripening is 18 to 20 degrees celsius. Ramesh Gore, director, Devgad Mango Growers’ Cooperative Association, stresses on post-harvest care. “People are in a hurry to send mangoes to the market and use all sorts of chemicals to give the fruit a better shape and colour. But this damages the fruit,” he says.
(Inputs from Sweta Ramanujan in Mumbai)