Jackfruit – why elephants are ahead of the game on this jumbo of a fruit
“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air.”
-Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Last year we were staying in a national park in India, in Karnataka. Exploring the reserves from the river we saw all kinds of wildlife, including as we’d hoped, lots of elephants. Watching them swim was a revelation – efficient and elegant.
Our guide gave us a lot of information about these glorious animals, and then, spotting a huge, bulbous textured fruit he gestured towards it and explained that this was the elephants’ favourite thing to eat. “Elephants love jackfruit and they can smell it from miles away. They are dead clever and very determined. If the fruit is too high for them to reach they’ll shake the tree with their trunk until the fruit falls to the ground. If there is a trench between them and the jack fruit tree, they’ll fill the trench in with any vegetation to hand. If there is an electric fence, they’ll break it down with a tree trunk.”
Humans, on the other hand, are only just catching on to the allure of the jackfruit which is puzzling as it has so much to offer.
Briefing on jackfruit
The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is also known as jakfruit, or jack and it comes from the same botanical family as the fig and the mulberry. The name comes originally from the Malay word, chakka, but the fruit has been cultivated for thousands of years throughout the tropical lowlands of asia and the subcontinent. The jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh. Nowadays jackfruit trees are also grown in Brazil.
It’s the largest fruit in the world, with some monster fruit weighing in at 35kg/80 lbs – some nine or so new-born babies! These fruit will be nearly a metre long. Different varieties have differently textured flesh.
The flavour and aroma of the jackfruit
The seedpod of the ripe jackfruit tastes of the tropics – a heady mix of pineapple, mango, banana with the odd apple and pear thrown in for good measure.
The roasted seeds taste of chestnuts.
And, extraordinarily, the unripe flesh, when cooked, tastes of pulled pork.
However, very ripe jackfruit smell sweet and putrid – of ‘decay’, and exude a thick, white sap – not pleasant.
The structure of a jackfruit
Oil your hands and knife first, because the fruit is very sticky. Crack the jackfruit open with a large knife (see video below). You will see pods inside which contain the flesh, and within the pods, the seeds.
Enormous versatility – what you can do with a jackfruit
- In Karnataka, where we were, there are two varieties of jackfruit: bakke and imba. The flesh of the imba jackfruit is ground, made into a paste, dried and then fashioned into a sort of chewy sweet.
- In Goa a soft variety of jackfruit known as barka gets a similar treatment. Juice is spread onto metal trays and then dried in the sun to produce a sort of pancake.
- Jackfruit can be eaten simply – fresh, ripe, raw, on its own, or with rice, roti or other dishes.
- In the west, unripe fruit is cooked (often barbequed) and made into vegetarian hamburgers or tacos.
- In the east, unripe fruit is cooked and made into curry. Go to the Healthier Steps site for a good recipe using also sweet potato (some people think the jackfruit tastes a bit of sweet potato).
- It is commonly brined and tinned (available on Amazon) and can then be added to stirfries and curries as a meat substitute.
- You can also get tinned jackfruit in syrup – use it as you would other tinned fruit
- Because it has a bit of a taste of pineapple and mango, what works with those fruits will work with jackfruit too – so try it roasted with honey or maple syrup and pepper, or a bit of chilli. See Pineapple with Pepper
- It is stewed with jaggery (follow this link to find out more about jaggery) and made into jam (chakka varattiyathu)
- In the Philippines they incorporate jackfruit into their turron
- It can be juiced and drunk
- The raw seeds taste a bit like Brazil nuts
- The seeds can be roasted (causing them to taste, as mentioned above, a bit like chestnuts) boiled or fried. Then they are often eaten, with a little salt, as a snack.
- In Nepal they use it to brew hooch
- In asia they mix it into shaved ice to make a dessert, or it can be used to flavour ice cream
- The Vietnamese use it to fill pastries
- It can be incorporated into noodles, papad, dosas etc
- make pulled jackfruit – serve on a burger with sweetcorn salsa. To make the pulled jackfruit add it to fried onion and green pepper – separate the strands with a wooden spoon. Add some Aleppo pepper, paprika, cinnamon and, if you are not vegetarian, a few sploshes of Worcestershire sauce. Cook for ten minutes, season and add parsley.
Looking to the future: the benefits of the jackfruit
Climate change is making production of wheat and corn more difficult, more expensive. This could lead to food shortages and, according to Dr Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, war.
Jackfruit on the other hand are easy to look after, requiring only minimal pruning every few years, and being broadly resistant to pests, diseases, high temperatures and droughts. Unlike corn and wheat it doesn’t have to be replanted every year.
Each jackfruit tree can produce up to 200 fruit a year.
Jackfruit is more nutritious than wheat or corn being rich in protein, potassium, calcium and iron.
And the leaves can be used as fodder; the sap can be used as glue; the bark can produce an orange-coloured dye; while the timber is also useful.
Jackfruit is a no-brainer!
Business Insider‘s video, below, gives you a very good idea of what this monster fruit looks and tastes like.