How to Peel Mangos If You're Allergic
I was blissfully mid-bite on a mango last year when someone cheerfully announced that mangos were related to poison ivy. I couldn't have dropped the mango faster! Outside and nowhere near a source of running water, I frantically poured my water bottle's contents over my hands and tried wiping my mouth and lips off on my sleeve. I wasn't entirely sure this other person was correct, but I am highly allergic to poison ivy and thought if there was even a chance, I'd better play it safe! I spent the rest of my day panicking, envisioning contact dermatitis on my lips and maybe even inside my mouth. What about the inside of my throat? How much of the mango had I eaten?
I rushed home as quickly as I could and jumped on the Internet, wondering if I should just go straight to the doctor's care, instead. This article contains the information I learned about mangos, how to safely eat mangos if you suspect an allergy, and what to do if you've come into contact with a mango tree.
Are you allergic to poison ivy?
Are Mangos Related to Poison Ivy?
Weirdly, yes. I don't know what cruel joke of nature made a tasty fruit and a life-ruining vine related, but both mango trees and poison ivy leaves contain a chemical called urushiol (pronounced ooh-roo-she-all).
Urushiol is what causes people with a developed sensitivity to have what is officially called contact dermatitis, also known as a painful skin irritation/rash. You aren't born allergic to urushiol—it is a developed sensitivity. Some people, particularly those of Native American descent, never develop this sensitivity. Once you have it, though, it will probably just get worse each time you are exposed. The first time I got poison ivy, it was barely a rash. The next time I got poison ivy, it turned into a horrible mess that made one of my eyes literally swell shut and resulted in a quick trip to the doctor for antihistamines and steroids! Other, subsequent exposures have resulted in weeping sores and even bleeding, and lasted over a month. Yikes!
If you've developed an urushiol sensitivity, you can have contact dermatitis from your first contact with a mango. As fun as it may sound, scratch mango picking off your next Floridian or Hawaiian vacation to-do list if you even suspect you might be allergic to poison ivy or sumac. While most cases of urushiol sensitivity only result in skin irritation, it can actually lead to anaphylaxis.
Can I Eat Mangos if I'm Allergic to Poison Ivy?
Yes! Urushiol is an oil that is contained in the tree's sap and, in smaller concentrations, a mango's outer rind/peel. If you are sensitive to urushiol, you are more likely to have a reaction from picking the fruit than you are from touching the mango, itself, but highly sensitive people have been known to break out just from standing under a tree! Even little bits of leaking sap can cause dermatitis in people with a severe poison ivy allergy.
The edible portion of the fruit does not contain urushiol. Even if you are highly reactive to urushiol, you can eat peeled mango with no ill effects. Most people don't eat mango rind, anyway, so this isn't usually a problem. The bigger problem is peeling the fruit without putting yourself at risk for contact dermatitis.
Because most other allergy-inducing plants are not native to the islands, the biggest cause of contact dermatitis in Hawaii is contact with a mango tree. What a way to ruin your vacation! Keep an eye out for mango trees if you're on vacation somewhere that grows them and make sure not to use one of them for shade if you suspect an allergy.
How to Prepare a Mango if You're Allergic
The most popular way to cut and prepare a mango is the "hedgehog" method. If you're allergic to urushiol, this may not be a good idea. Ideally, you should have someone who is decidedly not allergic peel the mango for you, but that isn't always possible.
If you suspect an allergy or have a history of poison ivy-induced contact dermatitis, cover your hands when handling a mango. Pick it up with the produce bags at the store instead of putting it in the bag with your bare hands. When you get home, handle it with gloves or, more realistically, the bag.
Hold the mango in place with your covered hand and peel it with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. A mango's skin is more like a rind than a peel, so it is pretty tough. Unless your knife is really sharp, it may not work well. I use my amazing Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler for all peeling jobs and its super-sharp carbon steel blade has always handled a mango's rind with ease.
After you've removed the entire rind, scrape the peelings in the trash, ditch the cutting board in the sink, give the mango a rinse, put it on a clean cutting board, and scrub your hands with hot water and soap just in case! Because urushiol is an oil, cold water won't cut it, and there's no reason to risk contaminating your fruit by putting it back on the same cutting board. Evidence suggests that urushiol can remain active for five years on dead plants or items that came into direct contact with it!
Now you're free to cut up your mango and enjoy it by itself, in a fruit salad, like mango salsa, or any other way your heart desires. Eat confidently knowing you protected yourself from urushiol and that it is not in the fleshy fruit portion of the mango.
Help! I Touched a Mango, and I'm Allergic to Poison Ivy!
If you've just been out picking mangos and wonder why your hands feel funny, it is not too late! There is an amazing product called that really does work to neutralize urushiol. Regular Tecnu is best used within a couple of hours and can be used to clean tools and clothing, too. Tecnu Extreme is better if you already have symptoms. It will neutralize any remaining urushiol to ensure you don't spread the oil to other parts of your body and soothes the terrible itching, oozing pain. Tecnu
I keep a bottle of Tecnu in my locker at work because I trust it. I straight up grabbed on to a poison ivy vine while pulling weeds out of a rosebush, used Tecnu immediately, and I never broke out. For someone who needs steroids to calm down an urushiol reaction, that is pretty amazing!
The Mango/Poison Ivy Connection
You'd think maybe someone along the line would have warned me of the mango's connection to poison ivy, but I only found out by accident. Luckily, my proactive approach has kept me from breaking out due to contact with mangos, but I'm pretty paranoid about standing near a mango tree!
Has anyone reading this ever broken out from eating or touching a mango? Does anyone even realize that the two plants are related?