Here's how to make the refreshing Mexican street beverage at home.
Bright orange, swirled with red, and topped with mango chunks, the mangonada is a summertime staple in Mexican communities. If you’re not familiar with it, imagine a clear Starbucks cup coated in liquid chamoy—a savory condiment made from pickled stone fruit—and filled to the brim with alternating rounds of mango sorbet, lime, and Tajín, a lime-flavored chili powder. The cup is topped with fresh diced mango and a tamarind paste-wrapped straw that's rolled in chili powder. Sweet, tart, and savory, the dessert offers an umami punch that's supremely refreshing.
“It reminds me of seeing my mom sell fruit and mangonadas in front of schools,” says Cesar Pantoja, chef at Raíz in Mexico City’s ritzy Polanco. “Those humble beginnings were the root of my love for food. We turned it into an activity that I genuinely loved because we got quality time alone to talk, and we were preparing food for others to enjoy."
The combination of lime, salt, and Tajín is ubiquitous in Mexican food, seasoning everything from pozole to jicama. Modest businesses, like the one Pantoja describes, rely on its use. Vendors selling fruit topped with this inexpensive blend of flavors can be found across Mexico and in U.S. cities with large Latinx presences.
And with good reason. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered new sugar receptors on the tongue that are only activated when salt is present, which further proves the excellence of mangonadas: The salty chamoy enhances the sweet flavor of the mango sorbet, rather than overpowering it.
The dessert’s origins are unclear, though it dates long before the Instagram food craze, despite being so photogenic and, well, 'grammable. According to Marco Rodriguez, the vice president of Dulcelandia—the biggest importer of Mexican candies to the Midwest—the mangonada’s growing popularity in the U.S. could be attributed to the surge in paleteria openings around 2010.
While you'll find them throughout Mexico, a plane trip isn’t necessary—just a willingness to commute to a Mexican neighborhood in America. While you’re there, stock up on supplies to make it at home.
Speaking of which, here's how to make it at home:
“The preparation for this item is of the upmost simplicity,” says Pantoja. “It requires very little technique. Take the pulp of the mango, add water and sugar to taste, then blend until the texture is right and freeze. There are no set rules to follow, just remember that it is a heavy consistency and the amount of sugar depends on how ripe the mango is.”
You can also use Top Chef alum Katsuji Tanabe’s hack. “No need to purchase fresh mangos and spend time cutting them up in the kitchen,” says the executive chef at Barrio in Chicago. “All you need to do is head to the frozen aisle in your local grocery store and grab a bag of frozen mango chunks. At home, blend it with some mango juice—or, for when I’m feeling a little fancy, passion fruit juice to create the base.”
Then add the rest of the toppings. Tajín is getting easier to find at retailers like 7-11 and Walmart, but you’ll probably have to hunt for chamoy and tamarind-wrapped straws.
Though most chefs agree that mangonada is, in fact, a dessert, the concoction takes on many forms.
“How you serve it and present it is how you classify it,” says Pantoja. “If served as a post-meal item in a restaurant, it’s a dessert. If bought on a hot day as a drink, it’s a juice. If it’s a little thicker and more substantial, then it’s a smoothie. Add a little tequila, now it’s a cocktail. It’s really meant to be enjoyed as you wish.”