The mango is not only a delicious meal in itself, but is also a good source of vitamins.

With the summer comes the mango season. Those readers with roots in the subcontinent may understand what the excitement is all about. For those who don't, it must be a conundrum watching reasonable people becoming suddenly animated — the gleam in their eyes, the determined gaze, the unwavering focus — all for a humble fruit.

I refer of course to what we in Pakistan call the aam (The English name of the fruit has its roots in the Tamil language manga, a word later popularised by the Portuguese). The mango is almost a national identity for Pakistan. In fact Pakistan is one of the largest producers of mango.

The popularity of mangoes has not been peculiar to one stratified social group either — the great Urdu poet Ghalib is known to have been extremely fond of this fruit as he once remarked: Hamah gar meva-e-firdaus ba-khaanat baashad; Ghalib aan amba-e-Bangaalah faraamosh ma-baad (were all heavenly fruits available to you, how even then Ghalib, could you forget the mangoes of Bengal?) There is also the incident that many like to quote which illustrates both Ghalib's sharp wit and his love of mangoes. A friend of Ghalib's was familiar with the poet's penchant for mangoes, but did not share his affinity for the fruit. He saw a donkey walk through the street, sniff at a mango peel and then continue on its journey. The friend quipped, "Why, even donkeys don't enjoy mangos," to which came the reply: "Indeed, donkeys cannot enjoy mangoes."

Pakistan's national poet and philosopher and one of the great names in Urdu and Persian poetry, Allama Iqbal, had such a great liking for mangoes that during a prolonged bout of illness when the fruit should have been strictly prohibited, he convinced his physician to allow him a daily mango. That's the story, but the fact is that mangoes are known to be a good source of vitamins A, C and D.

Although mango varieties are also found in other parts of the world the greatest genetic diversity of the fruit is found in South and Southeast Asia.

Good products

The mango is reputed to be the most commonly eaten fresh fruit worldwide. The UK alone buys £22 million (about Dh163.9 million) worth of mangoes per year.

The fruit is now cultivated in Africa, Australia, Central America and other areas. Popular varieties include Thailand's Nahm Dawq, Venezuela's Super Haden, Mexico's Ataulfo and Australia's Kensington Pride. The Edward is cultivated in Peru, Brazil and Ecuador.

However, some of the best mangoes are grown in the Indus Valley. Varieties include Anwar Ratol, Dusehri, Sindhri, Langra, Sonehra, Fajri, Neelum, Began Phalli, Alams and Gulab Khas.

Among Pakistani mangoes, it's the golden coloured Chaunsa that's considered the most delicious. Its flesh is firm yet juicy, fibreless and has a pleasant flavour. It is available between the months of July and September.

Wide variety

There are also more cosmetic varieties such as the Sensation that has a beautiful reddish hue. They say that if you want to enjoy this mango you should gaze at it to your heart's content but do not try to eat it — a cucumber would be better.

However, it is a fact that a mango's colour is not the best indicator of its quality. To choose the perfect mango, gently squeeze the nose of the fruit; if there is a slight give, then the mango is ripe for consumption.

Global market

One of the main reasons for the lack of visibility of Pakistani mangoes in the international market is its perishable nature.

Once ripe, they have a shelf life of about two weeks, which means transportation in large amounts across the globe is not feasible.

The growth potential for Pakistani mangoes as an export commodity is now understood and workshops have been encouraged to begin to look at more efficient harvest, storage and packaging methods.