It’s the peak of summer in Kerala now. Here, the fruiting seasons are celebrated with an expo to encourage cultivation and to introduce the urban populace to some good old food traditions.At a recent jackfruit expo (watch this space for more on a mango showcase), the city-bred me who’d otherwise encountered the fruit only in flavored sorbet and ice cream figured what it was all about. Then I did some reading and this month-old article in The Guardian had me hooked:
Late last year, after 18 years of litigation, a senior government official in Kerala, south-west India was given a prison sentence after being convicted of theft. The object he stole was government property, and it was so large he had to have it cut up to get it home. A piece of art, perhaps? A precious metal? Actually, it was a 40-year-old jackfruit tree, and, once you’ve tasted its fruit, you begin to understand why he did it.
The jackfruit is in a league of its own when it comes to fruits for several reasons. You can say the seasonal fruit (grows between March-July in Kerala) believes in living life ‘king-size’. Weighing up to 60 pounds, each fruit can feed a family for several days. And its aroma – some just cannot get over it. The strong smell lingers for several days, partly why chefs don’t prefer having the fruit in their kitchens. It can act difficult, too. One has to get through the outer prickly hard skin before getting to its sticky inside. Then fight your way through a gooey latex, with your bare hands, until you reach the ripe yellow arils and pry them out. But it sure is a beautiful golden sight!
What can the victorious you do with the fruit? Eat it, of course. Jackfruit, a largely pest-resistant crop, and its starch and fibre can replace corn and other sources of carbohydrates that are susceptible to climatic changes and pests. You can even make pickles and jams of the fruit for the long run. Other options are to freeze the fruit for use in puddings, cakes and ice cream. And if you don’t have a sweet tooth, make savory dishes from the unripe, tender fruit. Think jambalaya, croquettes, chips, tacos and more.
Jackfruit, with its Indian roots, found homes in other countries thanks to the Portuguese’s colonial conquests. Now, the fruit is truly global with vegans looking at its fiber as a meat substitute. Barbecue jackfruit for Meatless Memorial Day, anyone? In fact, the green fruit has been touted as the “hot new vegan ingredient”, and you may soon hear of it as the vegetarians’ pulled pork. Closer home, efforts are on to study unripe jackfruit and its role in controlling diabetes, given its low sugar content and high dietary fiber. There’s also the interesting story of James Joseph, a former director of Microsoft, who left the corporate world to start a business that sells freeze-dried jackfruit and leads the conversation on jackfruit for good health.
Sure sounds like this one fruit can easily be the Jack of all trades, right?