Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
If you’ve been to the produce section inside of an Asian market, chances are you’ve seen a jackfruit. It is sold either whole or conveniently cut up. When sold whole, it is distinguished by its very large size and bumpy skin with either a green or yellowish color. The inside of the jackfruit is white to light-yellow, with edible seeds wrapped around layers of flesh.
Jackfruit is one of our favorite produce picks at Asian markets, and the kids love to watch it cut open because it is so large. The sweet flesh is sweet and perfumey, both in aroma and in flavor. If you’ve never seen a jackfruit, or want to know more about it, the basic description and where it’s grown is below.
The jackfruit is a strong tree, growing from 30 to 70 feet tall, and has glossy evergreen leaves. The leaves are oval in shape, leathery and average 9 inches in length. It is one of the largest of all tree-borne fruits, with the fruit getting as small as 8 inches to as big as 3 feet long, and from 6 to 20 inches wide. The fruit can get up to 110 lbs. in weight. The rind is green to yellow when ripe, and contains many hard, cone-like points that are attached to a thick rubbery wall. The flesh consists of large bulbs that are yellow-colored and banana-flavored (and very fragrant) which are surrounded by the tough ribbon-like flesh.
Each bulb contains a seed that is covered by a white membrane, and there may be up to 500 seeds in a single jackfruit depending on the fruit’s size. Conflicting information is around for the ribbon part: some say it’s indigestible, while others say it’s edible. The one thing I know is it doesn’t have a taste, and is very tough. It may not be worth the work to make it edible. Instead, focus on the sweet bulbs that surround the seeds.
While the unopened jackfruit emits a strong odor, the pulp of the fruit smells pleasant and tropical, like a combination of pineapple, banana, and mango. And that is what it tastes like, too. When cutting it open, there is a sappy, sticky substance (latex) that comes from the fruit. The younger jackfruit will have more of it.
Origins & Growing
The origins of this plant are unknown, but it is believed to be indigenous to the Western Ghats rain forest. It is common in the Philippines, grown in Mauritius and in Australia, and often planted in Africa and the Far East. While it grew in Hawaii previously, it was introduced there and in the Pacific Islands in the mid 1800’s and currently thrives. In South India, the jackfruit is as common as the mango and banana fruits, and grown in backyards for shade.
Jackfruit is adapted to tropical climates, is sensitive to frost, and cannot tolerate drought. In dry climates, the jackfruit must be irrigated, but if the roots sit in standing water, the tree will not bear fruit or the tree will die.
The jackfruit Tree Serves Many Functions
- Fruit for food
- Seeds for flour (as dried) and a starchy food substitute (when boiled)
- Rind as pectin extract
- Leaves for cattle, as a wrapper for cooking, or used as plates for eating – the more tender, young leaves can be used a vegetable when cooked
- Latex as household cement for fixing chinaware and to caulk boats
- Wood for furniture and construction – it is termite proof, resembles mahogany, and is superior to teak
- Bark for cordage and cloth
- Pulp, seeds, bark, leaves, roots for traditional medicinal uses
It’s important to note first of all that cutting up a jackfruit is very messy, and the resulting latex & residue from the rind is hard to clean up. Use an old yet sturdy table in the garden with a large cutting surface for cutting a jackfruit. If you are boiling dried jackfruit in the kitchen, use an older pot (or at least not your favorite one) as the latex will leave a residue. The residue is intensified with younger jackfruits, so always try to find the ripest ones for cutting. If you end up getting that stuff all over, try rubbing with vegetable oil to remove it.
Trim the top and bottom of the fruit to make a flat surface for standing. Cut open the rind to expose the insides. The tough fibers will surround the edible and sweet bulbs that in turn surround the seeds. The seeds may cause stomach upset for some individuals if eaten raw (they contain a trypsin inhibitor that is destroyed by boiling), but when boiled they make a good substitute for potatoes. When cooked they have a consistency of Lima beans, and are often served with rice and in curries. Boil the seeds until soft, cool, and remove the outer membrane and skins. Sauté them in butter until browned to use as hash browns.
- “Jackfruit.” Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products. August 10, 2011. Accessed August 10, 2011.
- Images courtesy: Wikimedia Commons through a public domain license.