Mango Jam Taste Test: The Philippines’ National Fruit in the Form of Seven Brands of JamOctober 1, 2017
The Philippines is blessed with a rich agricultural landscape that gives locals a wide selection of fruits for consumption—among the most popular of which are Philippine (“Carabao”) mangoes, said to be among the best of its kind in the world. Fresh mangoes are a seasonal gem, but its luscious goodness can be enjoyed all year ’round thanks to the power of preservation: by being cooked with sugar and other ingredients to transform into the sticky, sweet spread (slash-topping-slash-cooking ingredient) known as jam. You’ll find a couple of brands in the market, ranging from the commercially-produced sort to ones by smaller companies that make their jams by hand—and while nothing beats the homemade sort, there’s nothing wrong with going the store-bought route in the name of convenience or even just to support local purveyors. But how do they differ, and which one best suits your preferences and purposes?
Note: Jams are a category of the overarching family of preserves, thought to be distinguished from its cousins by having a consistency that is relatively coarser and less stiff than what is called a “jelly” but still more uniform and jellified than what is more specifically referred to as a “preserve”. For consistency in this respect, we went with products that are explicitly labelled as “Mango Jam”—with one important exception as you’ll read below. In practice however (especially here in the Philippines), you’ll find varying degrees of thickness, solidity, and other characteristics that may not necessarily adhere to the said definitions. Still, our focus is on each individual jam’s qualities with respect to good food as a whole, and how they choose to exhibit the said fruit’s flavor.
Clara Ole Mango Jam
Commercially produced and available in most supermarkets nationwide, Clara Ole may well be the most accessible brand of the bunch. Though overall on the firm-jelled end of the consistency spectrum, it spreads easily to reveal a coarsely-blended purée of mango in a surrounding jelly, and there is a fine grainy character to it which we hope points to actual fruit fibers, but also feels odd on the tongue. Flavor-wise there’s a ton of tanginess (delivered via the addition of citric acid), which the team appreciates, but which also feels like a cover-up for the very little mango flavor underneath—sugar and water come before the actual mango in the ingredient list (go figure). More off-putting is the presence of a peculiar chemical-tasting note that isn’t too noticeable when spread on toast, but can make it difficult to enjoy the jam plain.
The Fruit Garden Mango Luxury Jam
Like other jams in their lineup, this French-helmed, Philippines-based artisanal jam company’s mango variant comes packaged in small jars that are elegant in appearance, consistent with their “luxury jam” tagline. Inside is a relatively runny jam with a consistency we’d compare to a slightly thicker coulis (or fruit sauce)—viscous enough to be poured easily, barely-set, with the consistency of puréed fruit that holds itself together as a heavy syrup. While there’s comparatively little tang to uplift the flavor equilibrium (even though you do find lemon listed in the ingredients), you get the clear taste of mango through and through that well highlights its natural creaminess.
Marketman’s Artisanal Preserves Mango Jam
This next jar forms part of the artisanal, small batch line of fruit preserves of acclaimed Filipino food blogger-slash-Zubuchon owner Joel Binamira (a.k.a. Marketman). It has the shortest ingredient list of the lot—just mangoes, cane sugar, and pectin to be exact—and offers a clear, juicy dose of mango flavor with a honey-like tone and just enough of a vibrant tanginess (despite being the only brand of the bunch where there is no additional source of acid, e.g. from lemon juice or citric acid, aside from what is naturally found on the mango). The consistency is more similar to a fruit preserve, with with small but clear-cut chunks of succulent, sweet mango embedded throughout runny, barely-jelled (if not syrup-like) base. This makes the jam an especially good contender for use as a topping over oatmeal, ice cream, or plain Greek-style yogurt.
Island Gems Mango
Island Gems’ version is explicitly billed as a “fruit preserve”, but we’re including it as its actual characteristics better resemble that of a jam—perhaps in the most accurate way of bunch (which is ironic, considering it’s the only brand not labelled as such). It takes on a golden hue and offers a consistency of fruit that’s loosely puréed but still slightly chunky, somewhat in between The Fruit Garden’s and Marketman’s but thicker and more jelled than the said two brands. The flavor of mango is there, with a part-tangy, part-floral, citrusy finish we initially liken to orange zest, but which the ingredient list reveals to come from calamansi. While this makes for a less purely-mango flavor profile, it melds wonderfully with the creaminess and sweetness of the main fruit.
Good Shepherd Mountain Maid Mango Jam
Hailing from Baguio, and from the makers of some of the best-known ube jam in the country, is this pasalubong center staple. You get a similar puréed-fruit consistency as Clara Ole’s but thicker and stickier—less like jelly and more like a very thick, almost-candied fruit compote. Its relatively dark color hints at its deeper, slightly caramelized-mango flavor (think dried mangoes as opposed to the fresh fruit), which is beautifully complimented by just a good amount of tang. Overall it’s on the sweeter, stronger-tasting, and candy-like end, but this potency makes it stand out when spread into event the thickest of pan de sal; it also makes for good use on dessert (e.g., as a quick filling for a crostata) or for straight-up nibbling, right from the spoon.
Philippines Brand Mango Jam
Though labelled as a jam, this oft-exported brand offers a spread with a consistency much closer to a jelly—uniform in texture with no fruit solids, and set firm enough that you can ‘cut’ and spoon it out of the jar and have it hold its shape. Still, it spreads easily and quickly disintegrates into its liquid-y backbone once on the tongue. In terms of flavor, you do get a good balance of the deep cooked-fruit taste, creamy mango, and tangy finish—but its overall sum feels muted by the presence of a starchy mouthfeel.
McNester Mango Jam
McNester originates from Guimaras, land of some of the best mangoes in the country. Their mango jam is similar to Philippines Brand’s in that it takes on a uniform consistency and is more akin to jelly than jam—but is set a touch less firm so it spreads easier. There’s also less of the starchiness found in Philippines Brand, allowing McNester’s brighter, juicier mango flavor to come across more clearly.
Though all (except one) are sold as “mango jam”, texture is where they differ the most. Semantics of jams versus jellies, preserves, and the like aside, some brands’ versions are more runny and viscous (Marketman’s, The Fruit Garden’s) while others are more solid and jelly-like (Clara Ole, Mountain Maid, Philippines Brand, McNester). Some also offer a uniform smoothness (Philippines Brand, McNester), others a more puréed consistency (The Fruit Garden, Mountain Maid, Island Gems), and others still, more chunkiness (Clara Ole, Marketman’s).
You get a wide variation of flavor balance here too, with some brands that taste more tart (Clara Ole, Island Gems) or deep-cooked (Mountain Maid) than others. But for the best mango flavor, it pays to go for the smaller, relatively upscale brands: Marketman’s in particular showcases mango bright and clear; The Fruit Garden’s stays true to the creaminess of the ripened fruit; McNester’s delivers it lush and vibrant albeit in a jelly-like medium; and Island Gems’, though citrusy in finish, still offers an overall fruit-centric taste. Still, all brands do present the signature essence of Philippine mango that Filipinos can best be proud of—just in different ways that all have their place.