It’s not every fruit that gets its own international symposium.
Then again, the jackfruit is not your typical fruit. It’s got a distinctive, musky smell, and a flavor that some describe as like Juicy Fruit gum.
It is the largest tree fruit in the world, capable of reaching 100 pounds. And it grows on the branches — and the trunks — of trees that can reach 30, 40, 50 feet. (Trunk-growing is a good thing because it reduces the odds of a jackfruit bopping you on the head.)
Jackfruits are also a nutritional bonanza: high in protein, potassium and vitamin B. And, with about 95 calories in about a half a cup, they aren’t quite as high-carb or caloric as staples like rice or corn.
Yet the jackfruit is “an underutilized crop” in the tropical-to-subtropical climate where it thrives, says Nyree Zerega, director of the graduate program in plant biology and conservation at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. In countries like India and Bangladesh, where the ackfruit was once widely cultivated, it has fallen out of favor.
So in mid-May, the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, will devote two days to revving up production and marketing of the jackfruit as well as its cousin, the breadfruit.
For parts of the world facing food insecurity — the buzz phrase for the struggle to provide enough nutritious food — the jackfruit could be manna from a tree. The tree itself requires “relatively little care once it’s been established,” says Zerega. By contrast, popular crops like wheat, rice and corn need lots of irrigation and pesticides. And the jackfruit is a perennial so it doesn’t require constant replanting.
There won’t be an instant payoff for new farmers. A tree takes five to seven years to bear fruit. Eventually, a yearly yield might be in the 150- to 200-fruit range, says Jonathan Crane, a tropical fruit crop specialist at the University of Florida.
Fruits are typically picked in summer and fall. You don’t wait to harvest until they drop of their own accord — by that time, they’d be overripe.
The tree belongs to the mulberry family. And it’s got an impressive lineage. Around 300 B.C., the Greek philosopher Theophrastus wrote: “There is also another tree which is very large and has wonderfully sweet and large fruit; it is used for food by the sages of India who wear no clothes.”
Probably was a jackfruit. India is thought to be its place of origin.
As for the name “jackfruit,” it most likely emerged from what the Portuguese called it, “jaca,” which was probably a version of a name used in southern India, “chakka pazham.” Jackfruit has other names, too: kathal in Bangladesh, kanun in Thailand and nangka in Malaysia.
Whatever you call it, it’s a versatile food source — and thus a potential economic boon for countries that market it…
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