Jackfruit can be compared to that one friend in everyone’s life: spiky on the outside and all gooey on the inside. What you see is not what you get. The actual fruit (or rather fruits) is hidden underneath the rough and spiky exterior. As you wrestle to open it, your hands are filled with a white sticky mess that rivals the bonding power of fevicol. Yet, when you actually manage to successfully manoeuvre the kitchen sickle (koithi) to cut the fruit open, all that effort seems to be worth it.
Indigenous to the forests of Western Ghats, they can also be found in Southeast Asia. Jackfruit trees are survivors. They were first cultivated in India around 3,000 to 6,000 years ago. With around 1,400 tonnes every year, India is one of the largest producers of the fruit. When the Portuguese arrived on the shores of erstwhile Calicut, they saw the ‘chakka’ fruit and recorded it as ‘jaca’, giving it a place in the diaries of travellers, as one of the wonders of the East that they encountered.
But, remember, jackfruit is not your mango. You cannot just get up in the morning and pick and eat those which have graced your courtyard. Jackfruit is not your Banana, where you can take the whole bundle of the fruit from a plant that is a little bit taller than the tallest member of your extended family. The jackfruit is not easy to get hold of.
They are indeed ubiquitous in the tropical forests of Western Ghats. But they are largely not subjected to the rules of farming. There still remains something wild about them, which cannot be found in any other fruit of the region.
Jackfruit trees stretch in all directions. Sometimes the fruits hide below eye-level and some other times they touch the skies. You need to know how to use your bamboo stick (which is tied with a sickle on the end as a hook). Make sure you’re not directly in its trajectory when this 35kg spiky fruit falls on the ground.
Jackfruit demands dedication from you, if you ever wish to savour the fruit.
Celebrity American Chefs and Pinterest Netizens might have declared jackfruit as one of the “hottest food trends” of 2017, but the jackfruit is still an underdog in India when compared to the beloved Mango. When you take a stroll in the farms and backyards of coastal households in Karnataka, you may encounter heaps of jackfruits going rotten. It is reported that almost Rs 2,000 crore worth of Jackfruit goes to waste every year in Karnataka alone.
SriPadre, the Executive Editor of Adike Patrike (literally, arecanut newspaper) and Kerala’s global ambassador for jackfruit, believes that there is a lot of demand for the fruit, but it is not met by supply. Farmers are still unaware that it is a profitable fruit. They are still used mainly for household consumption.
It came to be known as ‘a poor man’s food’, as people would give it away without charging a single paise.
There are mainly two varieties of jackfruits you can find in coastal Karnataka, bakke and boluva. The petals of the bakke fruits are much thicker than the boluva, whose extra gooey-ness can make you choke. The fleshy petals are used in curries, made as chips and the roasted seeds of Jackfruit are a monsoon delicacy. Some add it to their Dosa batter for that hint of sugar and it can even be converted into alcohol! And did I mention the delicious jackfruit papadams? Even today, you’ll find houses made of Jackfruit tree barks, which provide ample protection from thunderous monsoons. In fact, it is a belief in the region that no part of the Jackfruit should be considered a waste. The leftover spiky exterior can also be fed to the cattle.
The health benefits of the fruit ranges from strengthening bones and nerves to helping people with diabetes. It is also linked to preventing the onset of cancer. Also, it has anti-ageing properties. Yet, our farmers still do not see it as a viable commercial crop. There have been efforts made by the state government by including the fruit along with mango as part of its popular maavu-mela (mango fair). Many value-added products are making a headway in the market. But, it still has a long way to go.
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SriPadre is of the opinion that we need to create awareness about its uses in the northern part of the nation, where it already has a demand as a vegetable, but not as fruit. Additionally, also promote jackfruit’s low glycemic index levels, which can be extremely beneficial to diabetics.
A Kannada proverb goes: Eat the jackfruit when you’re hungry, the mango when you’re full (ಹಸಿದು ಹಲಸು, ಉಂಡು ಮಾವು). That is, jackfruit is a food that satiates your hunger unlike any other fruit, which are like dessert at the end of a meal.
Many African nations have discovered the benefits as well as profitability of the fruit and helped them achieve food security. The current global interest in this tropical fruit only adds to the belief that finally the time has come for this underdog fruit to shine.
However, as someone who grew up around the inscrutable yellow-ness of the jackfruit, no matter the extent of the commercial makeover, I hope it still retains its wild charm.