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The most delicious fruit on Earth? Terrific mangosteens this weekend

(David Karp)

Non-irradiated mangosteens, arguably the world’s most delicious tropical fruit, will be sold locally this weekend for the first time in many decades, at 10 Whole Foods markets in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Native to Southeast Asia, mangosteen is about the size of a tennis ball, with a thick purple rind. Inside are delicate, snow-white segments with an exquisite sweet-tart flavor blending cherimoya, lychee, peach and pineapple. Taste a segment and you’ll understand why Queen Victoria is said to have offered a knighthood to anyone who could bring her one.

For many years, however, fresh mangosteen was tantalizingly unavailable in the mainland United States. The tree is too tropical to grow here, and because fresh mangosteen can harbor insect pests, agricultural quarantine regulations prohibited its importation from countries such as Thailand where it is grown commercially.

It could be imported legally from 19 Caribbean and Central American jurisdictions, but there were no commercial plantings in these areas to supply fruit until 1994. Then Ian Crown, an investor, planted 1,000 trees at his Panoramic Fruit Company farm in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, near the western tip of the island. But mangosteen trees raised from seed take a decade or longer to bear fruit, so he did not send his first, tiny shipments to the mainland until 2006, and they all went to the Northeast, where Crown and his wife live.

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In 2007 the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed its regulations to allow fresh mangosteen from Thailand, but only if it had been irradiated to sterilize insect pests, which can impair fruit quality.

Crown’s trees are now 15 to 18 feet tall, and this year he had a bumper crop, about 10 tons, and decided to send some to California. Fifty 10-pound boxes arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday, and are scheduled to go on sale Saturday at these Whole Foods stores: Beverly Hills, West LA, Woodland Hills, Santa Monica, 3rd and Fairfax, Glendale, Jamboree (Tustin), El Segundo, Pasadena and Venice. Crown’s harvest will continue for several weeks, but it remains to be seen whether he will ship more fruit to California.

The price will be $14.99 a pound, or about $5 a fruit, definitely not cheap, but remember that Crown had to battle fires and hurricanes, and wait a decade to see a return from his orchard, and the trees still bear erratically.

Remember to consume your mangosteen soon after you buy it, because it will not ripen further, and will become more difficult to open as the rind hardens. It is possible to tear open a superfresh mangosteen with one’s fingers, but more often it is easier to gently incise the rind around its equator with a sharp serrated knife, and pry apart the two halves. Flick out the segments, and eat. One or two segments of the large ones will have seeds; the rest, which are smaller, will be seedless.

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