The jackfruit, native to Southeast Asia, has the distinction of being the largest edible fruit that grows on trees. It belongs to the family Moraceae or the mulberry family, and of the genus Artocarpus, an important group of about 50 species which also contains breadfruit and other edible starch fruits that can serve as staples. The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam) bears fruit which can weigh up to eighty pounds or even 100 pounds, reaching three feet in length, eighteen inches wide, with a two-foot circumference. Unlike most tree fruits, the fruits grow on the main trunk of the tree. The fruits are so large that branches could not support them.
The jackfruit tree itself, an evergreen resembling a large oak, can grow up to 70 feet in height. It is believed to have originated in southern India, possibly in a chain of mountains in southwestern India called the Western Ghats, and then to have spread to Sri Lanka and over Southeast Asia. It is cultivated in many tropical places including central and eastern Africa, southern China, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Malaya, East Indies, Philippines, and Australia. The hardwood is somewhat like teak, great for making furniture, and the green leaves can be used for animal fodder. For thousands of years, the bark of the tree has been used to make dye for the robes of Buddhist monks in South and Southeast Asia. The tree produces a gummy latex which is said to have medicinal properties.
How did it get its name?
The “jack” part of jackfruit comes from the Portuguese word jaca which itself derived from the Malayalam 1 word cakkai, chakka, or tsjaka, which was the name of the fruit.
What does Jackfruit Look Like?
The fruits are large, oblong and covered with hard conelike spikes resembling those of a pineapple. The fruits are green or yellow-green when unripe but turn a yellowish brown when ripe. The flesh is composed of large bulbs of yellow flesh within sections of tough membranes. The structure of the flesh will remind you of a pineapple except the arrangement is not as neat and tidy.
Technically, jackfruits are aggregate fruits, not one fruit but multiple. Each fruit is a pod which has a pithy core covering a light-brown pit encased in a white membrane. Both the pulp from the pod and the pits are edible.
A single jackfruit may from 50 up to 500 starchy edible pits. These are sometimes known as ‘breadnuts’ although the true breadnut is a different species.
These seeds, which resemble chestnuts, have a slight bitterness which is lost with boiling, and they can be roasted, ground into a flour, or candied. The unfertilized flowers are also edible.
The large size, high nutrition, and the abundances of these fruits have made them a staple in the tropical regions in which they grow, especially in India and South and Southeast Asia.
The fruit is often sold in large slices due to its size. It is also sold canned, such as Aroy-D Young Green Jackfruit in Brine.
There are actually two main varieties of the fruit, one which is “soft” and the other which is “hard.” The flesh of the soft variety is more mushy, sweet and juicy, while the flesh of the hard variety is crisp but less sweet and juicy. The hard variety is more preferred. The pulp and the seeds are edible but the core, as well as the rind, are not. The inedible parts, as well as the leaves of the tree, as mentioned above, can be fed to livestock.
A Sticky Mess
When jackfruit is cut open and sliced up, it gives off a large amount of very sticky latex, making preparation difficult. Often, vegetable oil is applied to knives and surfaces, and rubber gloves are used to make clean-up easier. The latex is so sticky it can be used as glue, making it very difficult to wash off.
Smell of Jackfruit
The smell of the ripe jackfruit, although not as unpleasant as the very stinky durian, can be off-putting, especially to Westerners. It is often compared to rotting onions. The stronger the smell, the riper the fruit. If the smell is overwhelming, filling up a room, the fruit is already overripe. Although the outside of the fruit has a bad odor, the ripe flesh itself gives off the pleasant smell of pineapple and banana.
The fruits are climacteric and will continue to ripen after being picked. They will even continue to ripen after being peeled.
The unripe fruit can be boiled and mixed with other food to use as a vegetable in soups or curried, pickled in brine, or canned. It has a very meaty texture and some even say it tastes like, you guessed it, chicken. It is even used as a ‘meat substitute’ for these reasons. curries. Young jackfruit is highly popular as a cooking ingredient in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kampuchea, and Vietnam.
The seeds are boiled or roasted to eat and the pulp of ripe fruits can be made into syrup or to make jams, jellies, or even ice cream. Today, as well, dried jackfruit is becoming popular.
Notable Jackfruit Food and Dishes
Below are listed popular jackfruit dishes including desserts, by country.
There are many dishes, snacks, and desserts using jackfruit throughout India and Indian states. Here a but a few of them.
- Enchorer Tokari (unripe jackfruit curry)
- Kathal Subji
- Kathal Aaachar
- Idiyan chakka
- Chakka aviyat
- Chakka erisseri
- Chakka Varatti (jackfruit jam)
- Chakka Vatta
- Panasa Koora
- Guijeda Kajipu
- Raithey (sour jackfruit curry)
Desserts include Ghariyo, Pilakkai Kandbu, Dosa, and Chakka Pradamam (jackfruit pudding).
Jackfruit chips are often eaten as snacks.
- Kaeng Khiew Wan Gai (a sweet green chicken strew)
- Jaw Phak Kat (mustard green soup)
- Kannoon (jackfruit soup)
- Gaeng Kanun (unripe jackfruit curry)
- Jaew (a spicy dipping sauce for meat)
- Jin Hoom Neua (a beef soup)
- Khanam Pang Ai Tiim (ice cream sandwhich – Raam Mit is a traditional jackfruit ice cream)
- Kiri Kios (creamy jackfruit curry with coconut milk)
- Polos Ambul (unripe jackfruit cooked with spices)
- Sayur Gori (unripe jackfruit in coconut milk)
- Lodeh (vegetables with coconut milk)
- Gute Nangka (spicy curry)
- Sayur asam
- Goi Mit tron (jackfruit salad)
- Humba Nangka (jackfruit curry with coconut milk)
- Ginataang Langka sa Alimango (jackfruit with crab and coconut milk)
- Sinh To Mit (jackfruit sherbet)
You can find canned jackfruit, dried jackfruit, and sometimes fresh jackfruit in Asian grocery stores. You can also jackfruit online.
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- Malayalam (or ‘Malay’) is the language of Kerala in southwest India, a Dravidian language closely related to Tamil.