Mangosteen is a tropical fruit that is grown primarily in hot, humid climates of southeast Asia such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia. It is a dark purple fruit about 2 to 3 inches in diameter – the size of a small peach or apple. Mangosteens are unrelated to mangos. At the center is the soft opaque white fruit, which resembles a head of garlic but tastes slightly sweet and tart.
In North America, fresh mangosteens can be found in Canada and Hawaii but they cannot legally be imported into continental United States due to concerns that they transport insects into the country. Alternate names for mangosteen are Garcinia mangostana L., mangostan, manggis, mangis, and mang cut.
People eat mangosteen as they would any other tropical fruit. In southeast Asia, the rind—or pericarp—has been used for medicinal purposes for generations. According to folklore, the rind was used to make a tea for conditions such as diarrhea, bladder infections, and gonorrhea. An ointment made from the rind was applied to skin rashes.
Today, the rind has been found to contain the compounds alpha-mangostin, beta-mangostin, garcinone B, and garcinone E, which are collectively called xanthones. Laboratory studies suggest xanthones have anti-cancer effects when they are studied in test tubes. Mangosteen has also been found to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties in test tube studies.
Although the fruit’s properties are often attributed to the xanthone content, some of the mangosteen’s medicinal properties may be attributed to compounds called tannins in the rind. Tannins have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and astringent properties, and are used for such conditions as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and skin conditions. Tannins are ubiquitous in the plant world and are found in common, less expensive foods such as black tea, green tea, and cranberries.