Artocarpus heterophyllus: Jackfruit tree

Family: Moraceae
Common name: Jackfruit tree, Jackfruit

You don’t need to see a ripe jackfruit to feel its presence around you, the delicious fragrance can spread many meters around the fruit. But the smell and taste of jackfruit is quite polarizing, you either love it or hate it.

Jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh, and the state fruit of Kerala and Tamilnadu, the two southernmost states of India. Both states have an abundance of jackfruit trees, grown with much love in all houses that have enough space to have them.

Jackfruit trees can grow to a height of 20 meters with a smooth brown trunk that can have a diameter of about 80 cms. The leaves are broad, leathery and glossy, about 40 cms long, with well-defined smooth margins. In fact, they are so thick and sturdy that they were used to make conical spoons with which to eat rice gruel in olden days.

Just twist them into a cone, and use a small stick to pin the edges together – and you have a single-use, organic, disposable spoon. These conical cups are also used to steam ‘chakka ada’, a yummy, healthy snack made with rice flour, jackfruit pulp, jaggery and coconut.

The tree produces both male and female flowers, the male flowers falling away after pollination. Female flowers develop into big, rounded fruits that are about an inch in diameter initially, but later develop into the biggest fruits on planet Earth.

Jackfruits average around 15 kgs, but the largest one was 42.72 kgs! They can have a length of 80-100 cms and a diameter of 30-50 cms. Each tree can produce around 200 fruits, and each fruit can have 50-500 seeds inside, depending on the species. No wonder there are so many dishes that can be made with jackfruits. When they are in season, there is so much fruit around that you automatically find new recipes for it.

Jackfruit has a thick, leathery outer coating with spines which are more pointy in young fruits, but flatten out when the fruits ripen. The fruit has a thick white central core around which egg-shaped fruits are arranged, surrounded by narrow strands of fiber.

The egg-shaped, pulpy fruits are pulled out manually after cutting the jackfruit and removing the central core. The pulpy fruits contain a single large seed inside, that’s covered with a thin white film, and a brownish membranous layer around it. The seeds can be eaten after roasting or frying them. They are also used to make curries.

The stems, leaves and fruits contain a thick milky sap which is very difficult to remove, once you touch it. They can only be removed with oil or kerosene. So be careful to apply on your hands before cutting jackfruits.

The unripe fruits are used to make curries, or chips. They can also be dried and stored for later use. The ripe fruits are eaten raw, or used in salads, jams, candies or payasams. They are concentrated with jaggery to make jackfruit halwa, or made into a preserve that can be stored for months.

Most Indian and South east Asian countries have their own signature dishes made with jackfruits, which are available during the specific season. Jackfruit puree, juice and wine are also popular.

The timber of jackfruit tree is very strong and can be used for making furniture, doors, windows, musical instruments, wooden roof, flooring tiles, cabinets etc.

Propagation is through seeds, which can germinate in about a month. Grafting and layering also effective propagation methods.

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