Jackfruit – Chakka

“Jackfruit, the sticky, sweet and smelly fruit popular along the Konkan coast and Kerala, is ready to cross the seas and make it to the United States of America. There, it will be savoured, sandwiched in a burger and turned into many other products. Once considered a poor man’s fruit, it is now at the heart of a campaign. “ (Times of India, June 12, 2012).  According to TOT, Annamarie Ryu, a Harvard student, tasted jackfruit for the first time last year and the magical taste prompted her to start the Global Village Fruits, Inc. (GVFI) to create a market and help the farmers.  While jackfruit is a common sight throughout Asia, it is largely unknown in the West.  But, the Day has Come!

I was always amazed by the sight of huge jackfruits hanging from the trunks of their trees.  One always expects gravity to pull them down to the ground.  We always see the windfalls of coconuts, mangoes, cherries, etc.  But the jackfruits appeared to be pretty resilient.  Any Malayalee is cognizant of all varieties of ‘chakka’ and its multiple culinary applications. Whether ripe or unripe, cooked or uncooked, ‘chakka’ is versatile in its gustatory appeals.

Belonging to the mulberry family, jackfruit’s binomial name is Artocarpus HeterophyllusIt is the largest known fruit borne by trees. It looks like durian, but is much bigger in size.  In Kerala, it can weigh up to around hundred pounds and its length may vary from eight inches to four feet and the girths are matching to the lengths.  It is believed to have originated in the southwestern forests of India.  Thus, it is indigenous to the rain forests of Western Ghats  (Kerala, Karnataka, and Maharashtra).  Well suited to the tropical lowlands where moisture is a necessity for its growth, it is widely cultivated in the tropical regions of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines.  It is planted in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, former Zanzibar, Caribbean nations like Jamaica, Mauritius, and Queensland.  In the mid-nineteenth century, it was introduced to Brazil and made itself very popular there and in Surinam.

‘Chakka’ is known by many names in many languages. When the Portuguese arrived in Kozhikode in 1498, they came to know of ‘chakka’ and called it ‘jaca’ in their language.  The English word ‘jackfruit’ possibly derived from that.  In 1563, physician and naturist, Garcia de Orta, included the English word ‘jackfruit’ in his book, Colóquios dos simples e drogas da India .   In the seventeenth century, Henrik van Rheede recorded the Malayalam word ‘chakka’ in Hortus Malabaricus which was written in Latin.  The volume’s translation (in the same century) by Henry Yule included it in Mirabilia Descripta: The Wonders of the East.  The table below shows the various names by which ‘chakka’ or the jackfruit  is known across the world.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit)

Bengali kantthal Marathi phaṇas
Catalan kathal Nepali katahar
Central Bikolano langka Norwegian(Bokmal) jackfruct
Chinese ? zang koh Oriya paṇasa
Czech jackfruit Polish Dżakfrut
Dutch nangka Portuguese jaca
Esperanto jakvo Sanskrit panasam
Finnish Jakkihedelmä Sinhala kos or herali
French jacquier Swedish jackfrukt
German jackfrucht Tagalog langka
Hindi Kat hal or kata hal Tamil palappazham
In Luganda ffene Telegu panasa paṇḍu
Indonesian nangkan Thai kanun
Javanese nangka Tongan Mei ʻinitia
Kapampangan yangka Turkish jackfruit
Karnataka halasina haṇṇu Upper Sorbian Wšelakołopjenaty chlěbownik
Konkani panas Urdu phannas

The jackfruit tree is handsome and its height may range from thirty feet to seventy feet.  Its leaves (upto nine inches long) are alternate and have a glossy, leathery look.  They are oblong on mature trees and are deeply lobed on young shoots.

Jackfruit’s popularity in South India ranks just behind mango and banana.  In Tamil Nadu, it is one of the three auspicious fruits known as mukkani . They are referred as ma-pala-vaazhai  (mango-jack-bannana).  More than 100,000 trees are cultivated in backyards and as shades in betel nut, coffee, pepper and cardamom plantations.  Encouragement comes from government levels to cultivate these trees on highways, waterways, and railways to augment the food supply.  In India itself, 14,826 acres of land is under cultivation of the jackfruit trees.  In Sri Lanka, the trees are cultivated in11,000 acres mostly for timber.  The fruit itself is a very welcome byproduct.  The Thais cultivate them mainly for their fruits.  But, the jackfruit could not replace the popularity of breadfruit in the Far East.

Along with breadfruit and pineapple, jackfruit is an example of “multiple fruit” because it is the result of the coalescence of ovaries from multiple, densely packed flowers and a fleshy stem axis to which each ovary is attached.  It is ‘cauliflorous‘  like cacao because the fruits are directly grown from the trunk or older branches.   Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree.  The male flowers are seen in the younger wood of the trees, above the female flowers which do not carry pollen.  The female flowers are on short stout twigs on the trunk or large branches. The fruits are oblong and irregular in shape.  The outside of a ripe jackfruit is green, shading towards yellow, and is covered with protuberances which are the crowded pistils. The interior of a ripe jackfruit consists of edible yellow bulbs or ‘chulas’ attached to the stem. Each bulb encloses a smooth, elliptical, light brown seed covered with a white membrane. The seeds are crisp and white within.  There may be a hundred or more seeds in a single fruit.

In Kerala, the jackfruits are known in two varieties: 1. Koozhachakka or Pazhachakka which have soft, fibrous, mushy and sweet fruit sections. 2.  Varikkachakka with firm, crisp fruits which are favored more commercially. There is a small, sweet variety of  Varikkachakka- Thèn Varikka. In Sri Lanka, the same types are known as Vela and Varaka or Waraka respectively and in Thailand, they are known as Kha-nun lamoud  and Kha-nun nang .  Pazhachakka is predominant in the West Indies.  As a youngster, I preferred Pazhchakka, but matured my taste to enjoy the Varikkachakka as I grew older.  The varikkachakka is preferred  for canning.

The jackfruit is best suited for humid tropical and almost tropical climates.  It is sensitive to frost when young and cannot tolerate droughts unless irrigated constantly.  In India, the South and the Himalayan foothills are good homes for the tree.  Jackfruits grown above 4000 feet above sea level are of poor quality and is more useful unripe and cooked.   In sandy soil, it is known to grow tall and thin and short and thick on rocky land.  If the roots reach water, not only will the tree not bear fruit but may possibly die.

The jackfruits mature three to eight months after flowering.  In Kerala and similar climates in Asia, the fruits ripen from March to June.  In other Asian climates, they ripen from April to September or from June to August.  Often, there may be off-season fruits from September to December in Asia.  In the West Indies, they are seen to ripen in June and in Florida, in late Summer or Fall. In India, an average yield is 150 fruits for a tree.  Sometimes, the number may go up to 250.  Some mature trees are known to have produced around 500, usually small in size.  But, these are rare occurrences.  Some find the odor of the unopened fruit disagreeable.   Browning occurs when the fruits are kept too long after ripening.  Attempts at cold storage have been able to keep the fruits for three to six weeks at temperatures between 52 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, at relative humidity of 85 to 95 %. (http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jackfruit_ars.html)

The jackfruit seeds are the means  of the propagation of this species.  Grafting had not been too successful although a recent method is known to be succeeding where others failed. Trees propagated from seeds bear fruits from three to ten years. But, grafted trees start bearing fruit within three or four years.  In Kerala, grafts are available from Kerala Agriculture University or Agriculture Department farms.

Numerous uses made of the ripe or unripe jackfruit, the seeds, the timber, the leaves, the latex that flows out from the stem, etc.

While cutting the jackfruits, ripe or unripe, one protects the hands from the sticky latex with coated oil to the hands.  The latex that oozes out when cutting the jackfruit can be used, when heated, as household cement for mending broken chinaware and earthenware, for plugging holes in buckets, and as caulking for boats. It is found to be equal to the papaya latex in destroying bacterial cells.  Even though it is not a substitute for rubber, its resin content may be a useful ingredient in varnishes.  It could also be used as bird lime, alone or mixed with the sap or oil of some special trees.

The young jackfruit is known as ‘idichakka’ or ‘idianchakka’ in Kerala and ‘polos’ in SriLanka.  They are very mild in taste when cooked and inedible uncooked.  In Kerala, sometimes it is steamed in big chunks after the outer covering is discarded.  It is then crushed up and seasoned.  Idichakka Thoran is a very popular dish in Kerala.  The tender fruit could be pickled with or without spices.  In many cultures, it is cooked and used as main food.  In Indonesia and Philippines, it is cooked with coconut milk.  In Reunion Island (France), it is cooked with smoked pork or shrimp. The cooked young jackfruit is often compared to  meat.  There is an opinion that the Westerners may find the cooked young jackfruit more to their tastes.

The yellow fruit parts inside a ripe jackfruit may be eaten raw or cooked.  All kinds of cooking preparations are possible with this fruit.  Syrup, custard, jam, jelly, chutney, ice cream, chips, ada, halwa, nectar, or concentrated powder are all possibilities with this fruit.  Even a potent liquor can be fermented  and distilled from this fruit.  Jackfruit pappadums are popular in Goa and Mangalore.  Smoked jackfruits are eaten in Sri Lanka when they are out off season. The tender leaves and the clusters of male flowers are also used in cooking.  Jackfruit makes good cattle fodder.  Sometimes trees are planted in pastures so that the cattle may have access to the fallen fruits.

The seeds of the jackfruit are very appealing.  The raw seeds have a toxin which is eliminated when cooked.  Boiled or roasted, the seeds provide a tasty snack.  They could be preserved in syrup like chestnuts.  They are cooked as vegetables like plantains or potatoes.  In Kerala cuisine, the seeds are often used in vegetarian or nonvegetarian dishes.  Roasted and dried seeds may be pounded to produce a kind of flour that can be mixed with other flours for baking.  The membrane of the seeds are also cooked as a vegetable.

Even the inedible portions of the jackfruit have their uses.  With the addition of citric acid, the rind can be turned into some form of jelly..  A kind of jam thickener is extracted from the peel, the inner rind, or the undeveloped part of the fruit.  Such wasteful parts also produce some liquid that is used for tobacco curing.   The surplus rind and leaves are often fed to cattle.  The leaves are good food wrappers and are used in making ‘idlis’.  They are fastened together as plates and bent to make quick spoons or ladles. These are the biodegradable, disposable plates and utensils obtained from the jackfruit products.  The goats are especially fond of their leaves.  On many occasions,  I have seen those who own goats coming to our house to collect jackfruit leaves to feed their goats.

The jackfruits are sometimes considered useful in medical situations.  The Chinese consider the pulp and the seed as not only cooling and nutritious, but also able to fight the ill effects of the abuse of alcohol.  Roasted seeds are considered, in this culture, as aphrodisiacs and the starch of the seed is considered to be effective against problems with the bile.  Jackfruit leaves burned with coconut shells and corn, mixed with or without coconut oil, are used to heal ulcers.  When the latex is mixed with vinegar, it is supposed to help with the healing of abscesses, snakebites, and the swelling of glands.  Skin diseases and asthma are treated by the roots and an extract of the roots is used against fever and diarrhea.   Leaves, when heated and placed on wounds, are supposed to help.

Jackwood has an attractive and distinctive yellow color .  Bedsteads made of its timber can be seen in many household in Kerala. As it ages, the color transforms from yellow or orange to dark red or brown.  It has almost three quarters of the strength of teak.  It is termite proof and is bacterial resistant.  In India, its yellow wood with good grains is used in making furniture, construction of doors, windows and roofs, masts, brush backs, etc.  The avani palaka or the decorative seat of the poojari is made from jackwood.   The wood  is very useful for the construction of the body of Indian string instrument like ‘veena’, and the percussion instruments like ‘mridangam’, and ‘kanjira’.   In Indonesia, the hardwood from the trunk is carved for the drums.  The soft wood is used for the hull of the Philippine ‘kutiyapi’ or the boat lute.  In Southeast Asia, the dye from the wood is used to give the robes of the Budhist monks of the area their distinct color.   In Indochina, the scarcity of this wood makes it sacred and is reserved for building temples.  In religious ceremonies in Malabar, the braches of the jackfruit tree are rubbed together to make fire.  The roots of old jackfruit trees are much sought after for carving and picture framing.  It is used for building palaces in Bali and Macassar.  In Sri Lanka, the timber is the most important commodity of the tree.  In India, it is important to a lesser extent.    The timber is known to be exported to Europe.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum” –  thus it is shown! Jackfruit tree may be considered the second ‘kalpaka vriksham’  (tree that fulfills most of our needs or the most useful tree) after the legendary coconut tree.  

NOTE:

A lot of the information that is used in this blog are from many sources.  Unfortunately, they overlap and my personal knowledge is interspersed with them. It made it very difficult to pin down the documentation.  The best I could do was to acknowledge the sources. document

Sources:

  1. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jackfruit_ars.html

Morton, J. 1987. Jackfruit. p. 58–64. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton,

Miami, FL

2.     http://waynesword.palomar.edu/jackfr1.htm  (Last updated: 6/8/112 )

3.     http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/jackfruit.html

4.     http://dohn121.hubpages.com/hub/The-Jackfruit-The-Jack-of-All-Fruits

5.     http://thaifood.about.com/od/introtothaicooking/f/aboutjackfruit.htm

6.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit

7.   http://dohn121.hubpages.com/hub/The-Jackfruit-The-Jack-of-All-Fruits

RECIPE Sources:

  1. http://www.pachakam.com/recipe.asp?id=5231&RecipeName=Kerala%20Jackfruit%20Halva
  2. http://www.tastesofkerala.com/blog/idichakka-or-idinchakka-tender-jackfruit-thoran/
  3. http://deepann.wordpress.com/2006/08/19/chakka-varattijack-fruit-jam/
  4. http://www.cookingandme.com/2009/11/chakkakkuru-aviyal-jackfruit-seeds.html
  5. http://www.webindia123.com/cookery/asp/item.asp?r_id=443&recipe=Jackfruit+Erissery
  6. http://www.swapnascuisine.com/2011/10/chakkakuru-mezhukkupuratti-stir-fried.html
  7. http://www.keralarecipes.info/malayalam-recipes/Chakkayappam-Jack-Fruit-Appam.htm
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