Story and photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet TM
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The resourceful and debonair Travelling Gourmet tells you all about the exotic…
MORACEAE family of fruits…namely the Nangka or Jackfruit…
The jackfruit, Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam. (syns. A. integrifolius Auct. NOT L. f.; A integrifolia L. f.; A. integra Merr.; Rademachia integra Thunb. ), of the family Moraceae, is also called jack-fruit, jak, jaca, and, in Malaysia and the Philippines, nangka; in Thailand, khanun; in Cambodia, khnor; in Laos, mak mi or may mi; in Vietnam, mit. It is an excellent example of a food prized in some areas of the world and allowed to go to waste in others. O.W. Barrett wrote in 1928: “;The jaks . . . are such large and interesting fruits and the trees so well-behaved that it is difficult to explain the general lack of knowledge concerning them.”;
|Fig. 15: A heavily fruiting jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) on the grounds of the old Hobson estate, Coconut Grove. Miami, Eila.|
|Plate 6: JACKFRUIT, Artocarpus heterophyllus|
The tree is handsome and stately, 30 to 70 ft (9-21 m) tall, with evergreen, alternate, glossy, somewhat leathery leaves to 9 in (22.5 cm) long, oval on mature wood, sometimes oblong or deeply lobed on young shoots. All parts contain a sticky, white latex. Short, stout flowering twigs emerge from the trunk and large branches, or even from the soil-covered base of very old trees. The tree is monoecious: tiny male flowers are borne in oblong clusters 2 to 4 in (5-10 cm) in length; the female flower clusters are elliptic or rounded. Largest of all tree-borne fruits, the jackfruit may be 8 in to 3 ft (20-90 cm) long and 6 to 20 in (15-50 cm) wide, and the weight ranges from 10 to 60 or even as much as 110 lbs (4.5-20 or 50 kg). The “rind’ or exterior of the compound or aggregate fruit is green or yellow when ripe and composed of rough numerous hard, cone-like points attached to a thick and rubbery, pale yellow or whitish wall. The interior consists of large “bulbs” (fully developed perianths) of yellow, banana-flavored flesh, massed among narrow ribbons of thin, tough undeveloped perianths (or perigones), and a central, pithy core. Each bulb encloses a smooth, oval, light-brown “seed” (endocarp) covered by a thin white membrane (exocarp). The seed is 3/4 to 1 1/2 in (2-4 cm) long and 1/2 to 3/4 in (1.25-2 cm) thick and is white and crisp within. There may be 100 or up to 500 seeds in a single fruit. When fully ripe, the unopened jackfruit emits a strong distinctive odour, resembling that of decayed onions, while the pulp of the opened fruit smells of pineapple and banana. The seeds are easy to grow into plants. They are also delicious when boiled and cooked with a curry sauce, and are akin to potatoes.
No one knows the jackfruit’s place of origin but it is believed indigenous to the rainforests of the Western Ghats. It is cultivated at low elevations throughout India, Burma, Ceylon, southern China, Malaya, and the East Indies. It is common in the Philippines, both cultivated and naturalized. It is grown to a limited extent in Queensland and Mauritius. In Africa, it is often planted in Kenya, Uganda and former Zanzibar. Though planted in Hawaii prior to 1888, it is still rare there and in other Pacific islands, as it is in most of tropical America and the West Indies. It was introduced into northern Brazil in the mid-19th Century and is more popular there, and in Surinam than elsewhere in the New World.
In 1782, plants from a captured French ship destined for Martinique were taken to Jamaica where the tree is now common, and about 100 years later, the jackfruit made its appearance in Florida, presumably imported by the Reasoner’s Nursery from Ceylon. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Report on the Conditions of Tropical and Semitropical Fruits in the United States in 1887 states: “There are but few specimens in the State. Mr. Bidwell, at Orlando, has a healthy young tree, which was killed back to the ground, however, by the freeze of 1886. ” There are today less than a dozen bearing jackfruit trees in South Florida and these are valued mainly as curiosities. Many seeds have been planted over the years but few seedlings have survived, though the jackfruit is hardier than its close relative, the breadfruit (q.v.).
In South India, the jackfruit is a popular food ranking next to the mango and banana in total annual production. There are more than 100,000 trees in backyards and grown for shade in betelnut, coffee, pepper and cardamom plantations. The total area planted to jackfruit in all India is calculated at 14,826 acres (26,000 ha). Government horticulturists promote the planting of jackfruit trees along highways, waterways and railroads to add to the country’s food supply.
There are over 11,000 acres (4,452 ha) planted to jack fruit in Ceylon, mainly for timber, with the fruit a much-appreciated by-product. The tree is commonly cultivated throughout Thailand for its fruit. In Thailand the Jackfruit is now dried to produced a most delicious and appetizing snack food. Away from the Far East, somehow the jackfruit has never gained the acceptance and favour accorded the breadfruit (except in settlements of people of East Indian origin). This is due largely to the odor of the ripe fruit and to traditional preference for the breadfruit.