Jackfruit, which is native to South India, is grown in tropical regions around the world, but it holds a special place in the hearts of Indians. Unlike other trees which require intensive care, the jackfruit requires little effort. It grows on its own, without much fuss, and produces fruits throughout the year.
The jackfruit, of course, was being cultivated in India around 3,000 to 6,000 years ago. With nearly 1,400 tonnes being cultivated every year, India is one of the largest producers.
In 1498, when the Portuguese arrived on the shores of erstwhile Calicut, they saw the fruit, which was then locally known as ‘chakka’. They called it ‘jaca’, recording in the diaries of travellers, as one of the wonders of the East.
Later, with British colonisation, it was anglicised to ‘jackfruit’.
Its wonders remain unchanged to this day. “In the town of Panruti, people make sabzis from jackfruit. It gives a meaty texture that you don’t otherwise get in vegetarian food.”
That’s food traveller and historian, Rakesh Raghunathan.
Panruti in Tamil Nadu is often considered to be India’s “jackfruit paradise”. There is much demand for the fruit from this town, and no part of the fruit goes to waste.
In India, it is states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu that have professed their love for the Jackfruit by declaring it as their official state fruit. Karnataka even has a proverb: ‘Eat the jackfruit when you’re hungry, the mango when you’re full.’
But I’m told that the love for the jackfruit in God’s Own Country, Kerala, is unrivalled, where it’s not just any other fruit—it’s an emotion. Even the seeds are quite the rage—they are either cooked or stir-fried—for a delicious, nutritious snack.
“I have to add that I’m a Malayali and for Malayalis, jackfruit is not just something that’s part of your diet. It has a lot of cultural significance.”
That’s Lekshmi Priya, a former writer at The Better India. Earlier this year, she wrote a viral article in defence of the jackfruit!
However, for all the record-breaking production in our country, there are reports that almost Rs 2,000 crore worth of jackfruit goes to waste every year in Karnataka alone.
Sree Padre believes that there is a lot of demand for the fruit, but it is not met by supply. He’s the Executive Editor of Adike Patrike, (which means ‘arecanut newspaper’), a platform through which he has been advocating the jackfruit movement for the last ten years or so.
“Farmers are still unaware that it is a profitable fruit. They are still used mainly for household consumption. The mass wastage was a primary motivation and we are letting it rot. That’s how the movement began.”
A farmer by profession and a journalist by obsession, he’s Kerala’s global ambassador for jackfruit. His magazine carries information and articles for its 1,00,000 readers. There are inspiring stories of farmers and entrepreneurs benefitting from the jackfruit, mentions of events promoting the fruit and of course, its health benefits.
He also sends out a newsletter and administers groups of jackfruit lovers on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp where he shares information and recipes.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)