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en agosto 11, 2006 en 2:07 pm
By next summer Mr. Crown hopes to be the first producer in decades to ship fresh Mangosteens to the mainland commercially.
Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, Mangosteen trees require a highly tropical, humid climate, and they cannot be grown commercially in the contiguous United States, although a few determined enthusiasts have coddled them to fruiting in the warmest parts of Florida.
Because fresh mangosteens can harbor insect pests, the Department of Agriculture prohibits their being brought from the main countries that grow them in Southeast Asia, or from Hawaii. (Mangosteens smuggled from Canada, where they are permitted because tropical pests cannot survive there, are occasionally sold in Chinatown.)
Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) is difficult to propagate by convenient methods like grafting, and when raised from seed takes 8 to 10 years or longer to bear fruit, a major disincentive for aspiring growers.
Mr. Crown’s venture is the latest chapter in the century-long saga of Americans craving and attempting to grow mangosteen.
By next year there may be other sources of mangosteen in the United States as well. On July 26 the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service published a proposed rule to allow fresh mangosteen and five other fruits to be imported from Thailand after being irradiated, which sterilizes insect pests. Final approval of the rule would take at least six months, possibly a year, said Inder Paul Gadh, senior risk manager for the agency.
Thailand, which has 115,000 acres of mangosteens, hopes to complete a commercial irradiation facility by next summer — peak mangosteen season — said Rapibhat Chandarasrivongs, agricultural minister-counselor at the Thai Embassy in Washington.
Mr. Crown said that he anticipated the cheaper imports and that he should be able to compete with them by selling fresher, nonirradiated fruit.
Fresh mangosteen may just be starting to arrive here, but since 2002, nutritional supplement purveyors have aggressively marketed high-priced mangosteen juice blends for their purported medical benefits, fueling an improbable boom. Southeast Asians have long used mangosteen rind as a traditional remedy for various ailments, and laboratory studies indicate that chemicals in the rind called xanthones show promise in combating bacteria, fungi, inflammation, free radicals and cancer. So far based largely on anecdotal evidence.
Many purveyors sell through multilevel marketing, a sometimes controversial business model in which distributors earn commissions from new recruits. Mangosteen elixirs, made with purées of the whole fruit, are pricey, $40 for about 24 ounces, especially since they primarily contain other fruit juices and have little mangosteen flavor.
Nevertheless, seizing on the recent vogue for exotic “fruitaceuticals” like noni, goji, and açaí, mangosteen beverage sellers have flourished, particularly XanGo, a private company that says it has 600 employees, and 500,000 independent distributors worldwide.
XanGo does not disclose sales, but Grant Ferrier, editor of Nutrition Business Journal, estimated that the company sold $200 million of mangosteen beverages in 2005 worldwide, and accounted for 80 percent of the domestic market.