Jackfruit: The King of India
Hailed as a vegan sensation to a western world just discovering its benefits, the jackfruit has always been a part of the Indian kitchen
In India, getting a jackfruit home is an event. The day is planned in advance. A space is cleared out, paper spread on the floor, windows opened to let out the smell and a bottle of coconut oil kept handy. The guest of honor arrives in style — from the garden, the market, or as a gift — weighing down the person carrying it. First, hands are liberally dosed with oil. A large knife or a sickle-like instrument, also oiled, is used to break it open. The quartered fruit is divided among the waiting people, who quickly pull out the fleshy pods and seeds, discarding the rest. This is how we treated jackfruit in Goa, before cleaned jackfruit became freely available in markets and supermarket shelves.
“India is the mother country of jackfruit. Jackfruit has been growing on its own here for centuries; it wasn’t farmed or cultivated,” development journalist Shree Padre told me. The editor of Kannada farm magazine Adike Patrike, Padre has been researching and writing on the fruit for over a decade. “It is a raw material that can be used in thousands of different preparations. There is no other raw material that can match it,” he explains.
The jackfruit is not necessarily a pretty sight: it is big, heavy with a spiky skin, fleshy but not juicy, with a dense, sweet taste and an almost sickly, sweet smell.
India is the largest producer of jackfruit in the world, and long believed to be its place of origin. Jackfruit gets its name from the Portuguese jaca, in turn derived from the Malayali chakka. It grows in the Western Ghats, in the south, and at scattered locations in the north and east. There are dedicated jackfruit festivals held across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa and in the North East. The fruit makes for an excellent gift in smaller villages, especially during festivals. It even makes its way into common parlance: in Kannada, hasidu halasu tinnu, undu maavu tinnu (loosely: eat jackfruit when hungry, eat mango when full) and in Bengal, summers are synonymous with aam…