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Straight from the Specialists

Where are the Alphonsos?

By Wally Olins
June 18, 2012

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

I had my first Alphonso mango of the season a few weeks ago in London. Oddly enough, although so many things are so easy to get hold of in London, Alphonsos aren’t. You either have to go to very expensive food halls — places like Fortnum & Mason or Selfridges or Harrods — or pick them up at one of the more selective South Asian food shops that are scattered around.

Even stranger, in London, a place which is in love with food, relatively few people have heard of Alphonsos. We bought a couple of boxes of Alphonsos when people came to lunch a couple of weeks ago and we offered them round and most of our guests, even those who were fairly well-travelled, had never heard of them, let alone eaten them. Naturally, everybody who tastes them is ecstatic and everybody wants to know where you can get them.

So, in London, where anyone who wants to can get practically anything from anywhere, why is the Alphonso mango such a comparative rarity — practically unknown?

Contrary to popular belief and myth, the British are in love with food. TV is full of programmes about French food, Italian food, Indian food, Chinese food and even British food. Celebrity chefs are treated like pop stars and the food columns that appear all over the press get bigger and bigger and bigger. And yet, you rarely see the amazing Alphonso mentioned. There doesn’t seem to be any marketing, there doesn’t seem to be any promotion, there doesn’t seem to be any understanding that this is an extraordinary opportunity for an Indian product which shouldn’t be missed.

Why isn’t there an Alphonso Mango Promotion Council sitting in Europe and the United States, promoting these delicious fruits and selling them at a price from which Indian mango growers can get a decent living?

And Alphonsos aren’t the only thing that India is sitting on, that it takes for granted and that the rest of the world doesn’t know about and would pay a good price to get hold of — if only they were told about it. A bit more consistent food and drink promotion programme worldwide would do Indian imagery a world of good. The winegrowers in New Zealand and Chile have done wonders worldwide. It’s about time India starting waking up to its food and drink heritage and did the same thing.

Incidentally, I wonder why they are called Alphonsos. It’s surely nothing to do with Spain.  Spain never had anything to do with India. Is it something to do with Portugal — with Goa?  Maybe from Afonso de Albuquerque?

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