(Artocarpus heterophyllus or A. integrifolius – Family Moraceae)
Jackfruit, jakfruit, jak fruit, nangka
rimier (French), Nangka (German), kathal (Hindi), pala pazham (Tamil), khanun (Thai), nangka (Malay/Indonesian), langka (Philippines), mu bo luo (Chinese), paramitsu (Japanese)
Others, including the breadfruit and champedak (A. integer) are used both as a fruit and as a vegetable.
The jackfruit is thought to be native to the rainforests of India, spreading to Sri Lanka, then on to the mainland of Southeast Asia, keeping to the more northerly regions and away from the tropical areas favoured by the breadfruit. Cultivation of the fruit has taken place in India since ancient times, as well as in Southeast Asia, Africa, and tropical regions of America and Australia.
The jackfruit is one of the largest fruits grown in tropical Asia. It is often three feet long, twenty inches in diameter, and may weigh over ninety pounds; although they usually average about forty-five pounds. Next to the pumpkin, jackfruit is the largest fruit in the world.
A general distinction is made between soft jackfruits, which can be broken open with the hands, and the hard ones which requires a knife to open them. Strangely, it is the latter that is preferred, but there are many varieties that do not fall into either category. Some believe that the best variety of all is the “peniwaraka” (honey jak) from Sri Lanka.
The jackfruit is the largest of all tree-borne fruits, but is really a collection of fruits which fuse together as does another relative, the fig. These large, irregularly shaped oval fruits grow directly from the trunk of the tree on a short stem.
Considered to be a composite fruit, it has a structure similar to that of a pineapple, but not as tidy, with sections clustered in irregular clumps and covered with spikes.
When the jackfruit is ready to eat, the skin will be stretched out enough for each of the spikes to stand clear of one another.
Although the smell of the fresh fruit has a disagreeable musty odour, the flesh inside has an aroma of pineapples and bananas. Inside the fruit and under its nubbly green shell is a number of fruit compartments or segments arranged like a wheel.
Each fruit contains a few, or up to 500, large starchy edible seeds, which are sometimes called breadnuts, although the true breadnut belongs to a different species. It is the chempedak (jackfruit) that is usually the source of the true “breadnuts”.
When the fruits are cut crosswise, the individual segments are easier to remove. The fibrous covering can then be carefully peeled from each segment to expose the smooth yellow flesh. The seeds are then removed from each segment.
As the fruit ripens, it is often covered with a bag – not to keep birds away but to encourage ants to swarm around it to repel other insects.
When ripe, the jackfruit is used as a fruit; but if picked “green”, it is used as a vegetable. The flesh may be diced or dried and used in soups or in pickles.
The seeds are very rich in calcium and protein; but the fruit itself is not very nutrient rich, although it does contain some carotene.
In Thailand, the seeds, which are called med kha-nun, are boiled in several changes of water and roasted, then eaten like chestnuts. They can also be pounded into a flour.
The young shoots and flowers are sometimes eaten as a vegetable. The pulp is firm, thick, and sweet and will continue to ripen even after it is peeled.
If the bulbs are boiled in milk and then drained and cooled, the congealed mass that is left forms a pleasant orange-coloured custard. The flesh is sometimes candied by the Chinese and Malaysians.