The Story of a Mango Named Alphonso
A Mango Called Alphonso
How One of the Sweetest Things Ever Was Named After A Portuguese Conqueror?
The Mango, the sweet, juicy fruit and most popular lassi flavor, was domesticated in India since at least 2000 BCE. A few hundred years ago, the mango was perfected with the Alphonso variety, named after a 16th-century Portuguese general.
Afonso de Albuquerque, a nobleman and “probably the greatest naval commander of the age” helped Portugal establish colonies in India. His military conquest is credited with helping the Portuguese Empire become the first “global empire” in history.
For all his noble pedigree and empire building, Albuquerque was called an admiral, viceroy, and duke, but the fruit named after him is honored as the King of Mangoes. The extremely tender pulp, with its extremely sweet, rich flavor has made it the go-to variety for a range of culinary uses.
In portraits, his demeanor is severe (and severely European!), making him an unlikely namesake for something so sweet and so South Asian. The story goes that the Portuguese introduced the technique of grafting, whereby a unique horticultural specimen (an exceptionally sweet mango, for instance) is propagated by joining its branch or stem with the root stock of another plant, allowing an entire crop of to be grown with the exact same characteristics as the original specimen.
Using this technique, Indian horticulturalists could tinker and experiment until they had a fruit that conquered all previous varieties. Thus, the Alphonso mango was born. And while it is unclear whether Afonso de Albuquerque himself had anything to do with the Alphonso mango’s cultivation, or ever tasted it, the name is a nod to the fruit’s Portuguese roots. (Interestingly enough, the English word “mango” comes from Portuguese as well.)
In India, the Alphonso mango’s short season is a kind of secular holiday. The season signals the beginning of summer, and newspapers keep readers updated on availability. Restaurants in Bombay reportedly hold mango festivals.
In the West, it’s a popular exotic variant ingredient on basically any sweet or sweet-and-savory recipe. If you know where to look, you can find Alphonso mango in creme brulee, salsa, cheesecake, ice cream, and barbecue sauce.
And, of course, you can find it in That Indian Drink!