It's funny how our brain works when we bite into something unfamiliar. Immediately, we start trying to place this new sensation on the flavor continuum, determinedly seeking to complete the sentence, "Hmm, this tastes like ... "

A mangosteen can put a brain into overdrive.

Famously described as indescribable, the mangosteen's allure long has been heightened by its mystique, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibited import of the fresh fruit because of pest concerns. Then last summer, irradiation technology enabled the government of Thailand to ship them fresh. They're now in Cub food stores, and should remain available through August.

The dark purple orbs are about the size of a billiard ball, and almost as hard.

If mangosteens catch on, cutting them open might replace "bagel hand" on the list of five most common hand injuries. And while they are here, they're also dear, priced on sale for $1.88 each. Each mangosteen holds about a half-dozen clementine-sized sections of pale white, meltingly sweet fruit -- or around 30 cents a bite. Which leads to the question: Do they live up to the hype?

In 1878, one South Seas explorer wrote that a mangosteen has "a taste which nobody can describe any more than he can tell how a canary sings or a violet smells." Variously likened to strawberries, kiwis and plums, the fruit is all of these and none of them.

LeeAnn Jorgenson, a spokeswoman for Cub, said initial customer reaction has been good, with several buyers noting the fruit's health benefits.

Mangosteen juice puréed from the entire fruit, rind and all, has been marketed as a liquid dietary supplement. Along with other newcomers such as goji and açai, mangosteens have been touted as "superfruits." And while they do have high levels of sought-after antioxidants, other health claims are more controversial. For more than you ever imagined could be written about mangosteens, go to

Those simply seeking a new flavor sensation may not care about myths or medicinal claims. Frieda's Fresh Produce, which supplies Cub, said that mangosteen is best eaten alone fresh from the shell. There's a recipe on the Internet for mangosteen clafouti, but it's difficult to imagine the delicate flavor standing up well under heat. A better bet for those who must use the fruit may be the suggestion to make sorbet.

Actually, the most show-stopping way to use the fruit may be simply to include it on a plate of assorted fruits. Whatever its flavor, halved and opened, it's a stunning sight, the plump, ivory-colored sections contrasting against the deep violet of the rind.

So, how do you open a mangosteen?

Hold the fruit with the stem-end down and cut around the fruit's middle or "equator" with a sharp, preferably serrated, knife. Careful; the rind can be a quarter-inch thick. Then gently twist each half to open the shell. The flesh then can be lifted out with a fork.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185