Here’s a disclaimer: don’t go by its out of jurassic park looks, for when it comes to this big, green, spiky, hulk of a fruit that can weigh more than 15 kg, it is fast earning the reputation of being the jack of all trees and fruits.
In fact, last year, a study by Nyree Zerega, director of the graduate programme in plant biology and conservation at Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden made headlines when he noted the “ginormous advantages of the jackfruit”.
Popularly known as kathal in India, the jackruit tree or Artocarpus heterophyllus from the Moraceae family, is an “underutilised crop” of the world that can solve the world’s food problem, as per studies.
That adds some serious wow factor to the tree whose fruit is the staple food of Kerala, and is gorged on by elephants.
Rewind to Adiparva of Mahabharata and the book, “Sacred Trees, Plants of India” by Nanditha Krishna and it is mentioned that trees with dense foliage and fruits are chaitya vriksha (protector tree). The Jackfruit tree is one of them. In a scene from Bharhut, the book mentions a five hooded naga sitting under a jackfruit tree, and how the tree is an antidote to snakebites.
From the divine to the delectable — if cooked well, kathal can give meat a run for its money. No wonder it’s often called a poor man’s or a vegan’s meat. One of the largest tree borne fruits in the world, the jackfruit’s tough exterior is matched with a soft sticky, squishy, mushy and fibrous interior, with a strong sweet flavour and aroma.
But cuuting the fruit is quite an exercise.
You have to apply oil on your hands before carving its guts out. Either sprinkle some salt and enjoy it as a fruit, or cook up a rich tadka and serve it as a subzi. You can even roast, dry, add it to soups, jams, chips, ice cream — the multi-purpose kathal is actually a jack of all fruits and vegetables.
Not only is it rich in calcium, proteins, carbs, potassium, it’s seed called the jack nut is also edible and the wood is used for timber, musical instruments and furniture.
Jackfruit is available from September through December, and again from June to August. Also known as Kanthal, Panos and Panasa, its cultivation in India dates as far back as 3,000 to 6,000 years.
One can finds its mention in Buddhist texts as early as 400 BC, in pre-Sanskrit language of Munda and in Tamil literature from the first and third century AD (ref: KT Achya, author of the book, “Indian Food: A Historical Companion”). And while India is considered the land of its origin, around 60 to 70 per cent of the fruit here goes waste due to lack of procuring and processing.
Easy to grow, drought resistant, yeilds abundant fruit — the jackfruit is so versatile that the world is looking closely at it and literally jacked up its cultivation including in Vietnam (it’s number one in making value-added jackfruit products), Malaysia, China and Philippines. In India too, parts of Karnataka and Odisha are pumping up the cultivation and sale, giving farmers a boost in their income.