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Jack Fruit: Food for Thought to Make the World Hunger Free

Updated on August 2, 2023
Deepa damodaran profile image

Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.

The Fruit of Abundance

Jackfruit has been the food of the poor man for many centuries in many regions of Asia owing to its abundance and ability to thrive with zero care. The tropical rainforest ecosystem is home to these benevolent trees that bear giant fruits, most of them carrying fruits literally from toe to tip, presenting a delicious feast to humans and animals alike. The tree is native to India and Malaysia and is distinct in having the largest known edible fruit. One jackfruit can weigh up to 35 kilograms. Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America have jack trees. Living up to around 100 years or so, and producing thousands of fruits in this life span, the jack tree could be one of the most economical choices of a fruit tree for cultivation, when viewed from the eyes of a family or a society. It can support family food security for many generations and still, there will be sufficient fruits left each year to sell to or share with the immediate society as well.

A South Indian Jack Fruit Tale: Reminder of a Feudal Past

Different parts of South India are drenched in monsoon rains from June to October, a time when the heavy rains bring farming to a standstill. For the landed and the rich, these months would be the time when they open up their granaries and start using up the stored tubers and pumpkins; they enjoy the rains sitting idly at home and having wholesome meals. On the contrary, for poor people, these are the months of poverty. They do not have work and they are incapable of storing food for the famine months. Jackfruit becomes one of the few food sources that they can rely on. Growing plentiful in the wild, on common lands, and in private homesteads, they are a food source of abundance and a poor family has no difficulty accessing them without paying any price. The raw jack fruit and its seeds are cooked into many delicious breakfast and lunch recipes. The ripe ones are eaten as fruit as such.

Fruit with a False Stigma

The sweet and musky scent of the jackfruit can be a source of repugnance for some, especially because the smell lingers despite washing your hands. This is one factor that created a stigma in some cultures against this fruit. Industrialisation and commercialisation accompanied by the decline of agriculture reduced the free availability of land for these trees to grow. The difficulty in cutting open the thick and thorny outer rind of the fruit and extracting the edible fruit pods, and the presence of the sticky latex that makes this extraction messy are some other issues that made people abandon this tasty fruit. The cumulative effect of all these factors is that this healthy super fruit is neglected and wasted.

How to Cut and Cook a Jack Fruit

  • Put some oil on your hands and knife so that the latex does not stick to your hands and the knife
  • Cut the Fruit in half and then in quarters
  • Cut the core which is also the source of the latex from each quarter piece
  • Pluck out the fruit pods by detaching them from the base and removing the tendrils that surround the pods
  • Remove the seeds and now you can either cook the pods if they are raw or eat them directly if ripe
  • The rind of the jack fruit (better cut and remove the thorn tips) is edible and can be cooked into different types of curries
  • The tendrils are equally sweet when the fruit is ripe and can be eaten
  • The core also can be cooked but because of the latex, it might be a little hard to chew
  • The seeds are a good source of nutrition and can be used as 1) a vegetable, 2) roasted as a nut, 3) ground to flour
  • The medium-sized and unripe fruits have a different taste when cooked, sautéed with oil and mustard seeds, and mixed with freshly grated coconut. This is a delicious side dish along with cooked rice and curd
  • The ripe fruit pods can be used to make a number of sweet dishes and sometimes they are pureed by slow boiling for a prolonged time. This puree has a shelf life of many months
  • The unripe fruit pod when deep-fried in oil, is a delicious competitor to other fried chips

A Fruit Rediscovered

Recently things took a better turn. When the covid 19 pandemic created short-term food shortages, people began to look back on their immediate ecosystems for local food and they rediscovered jackfruit. During the days of lockdown, the villagers plucked jackfruits which would have otherwise gone rotting in their homesteads; they consumed this yummy fruit and shared it with their neighbours too. The new interest in jackfruit even made it to the newsrooms and became a covid-related human interest story for journalists.

Food for the World

Jack fruit has captured the imagination of the vegans of the world as an alternative to meat as it tastes similar when cooked before ripening. Media has often called it a superfood of the future. Jack fruit cakes, ice creams, fried chips made of unripe jackfruit, jack fruit cookies, jam, desserts, dried unripe jackfruit - the range of food items that can be made out of this humble fruit is just amazing. While this fruit can be a food of sustenance for Asia, in Europe, it can become a vegan gourmet food. For the whole world, this fruit provides a new and inexpensive opportunity for wholesome nutrition.

The comeback of jackfruit is a curious example of how food habits change during a food crisis, in this case, a pandemic. In many Asian countries, 50% of the naturally growing jack fruit is wasted still. Isn’t this time to probe the nutrition and value addition potential of jackfruit in a more focused manner?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Deepa


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