Its light green spikey thick skin, oval shape and giant size give the jackfruit the appearance of a dragon’s egg. Peeling it requires some skill, and slathering of the knife as well as hands with generous amounts of oil — a smelly sap oozes out, as if in protest. However, if you do manage to negotiate your way to the jackfruit’s bulbous inner compartment, a treat lies in store. In the kitchens of southern, western and eastern India — as well as in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia — the starchy unripe fruit takes on the flavours of condiments as diverse as kokum, fenugreek, ginger, cumin and pepper. But the jackfruit’s biggest curse is being seen as a substitute.
In vegetarian meals, the unripened fruit is a replacement for meat — recent vegan interventions in the gastronomical arts even describe it as akin to pulled pork. The juicy ripened fruit cooked in ghee and jaggery makes a lip-smacking halwa yet the jackfruit suffers the condescension of being called the poor man’s mango. But on Wednesday, the jackfruit will get its rightful position in the culinary pantheon: It will be designated Kerala’s state fruit.
The jackfruit merits this position for more than one reason. With roots that extend to the moist sub-soil, the fruit is drought resistant, it withstands pests and is highly nutritious. A jackfruit tree can yield more than 150 fruits a year and lives for more than 100 years. Its leaves make good cattle-feed and the timber goes into the making of musical instruments. The flesh can be made into curries or used to make chips, candy or jam — even ice-cream. When roasted, its seeds acquire a chestnut like crunch; they can be cooked in gravies, turned into cake flour or used as a medicine for indigestion.
But an enormous amount of jackfruit goes waste. Unofficial surveys — such as the one conducted by the NGO, People Service Society Palakkad in 2015 — reckon that almost 60 per cent of the harvest goes into trash cans in Kerala. Certainly not befitting for a state fruit.