The humble jackfruit gets its due, it’s uses are being re-imagined in modern and more contemporary ways
Jackfruit season is upon us, and from seed to rind, no part of this vegetable is going uneaten
Raw jackfruit in a burger, in your bao and in your ravioli. With veganism, plant-based diets and sustainable living gaining momentum, the use of jackfruit is being reimagined all over the world. Especially in India, where it is a familiar summer fruit.
When Goa-based entrepreneur Sairaj Dhond decided to launch a food business five months ago, he chose to focus on jackfruit. The brand, Wakao Foods, began with a range of heat-and-eat products — jack patty, teriyaki, barbecue and even butter chicken-inspired butter jack. The best seller is the jack burger patty and he is currently working on developing a range of desserts from raw jackfruit. It retails online, and has physical stores in Goa, Maharashtra, Telangana, and New Delhi. Chennai and Bengaluru are next on his list.
The fact that it is a tasty cruelty-free alternative to meat works in its favour, he says, refusing to narrow down its definition to mock-meat. He aims to carve an independent identity for the fruit with his brand “It is a superfood. We are sitting on something of so much value, and so little is being done with it. Jackfruit is found in almost every backyard in Goa, more of it goes to waste than use. It is underrated and taken for granted. I want to take it across the country,” says Sairaj. The other states he sources from, besides Goa, are Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
World over, however, jackfruit has been touted as a healthy substitute for meat. In Bengal, it is even called gach patha, which translates to ‘tree goat’ as the unripe pods are used as a substitute for mutton. “It is cooked on special occasions too. The ‘non-vegetarian’ version, when cooked with onion and garlic, is very popular. Another famous variant is cooking with prawns or shutki (dried fish),” says Kolkata-based Sunindita Chatterjee, who is into business process outsourcing, adding that it is the perfect substitute for meatless days. Her favourite is the faux mutton curry.
While it is prized for its flavour, and sweetness when eaten ripe in the southern States, it is used more as a vegetable [kathal] in the north. Raw jackfruit goes into kathal ki sabzi, another popular take is kathal biryani. In Bihar, it is made in the style of a kala mutton curry — a dish made with whole and ground spices, cooked over low flame. Raw jackfruit pieces are fried and then curried. Jackfruit cutlets [like shammi kebabs] are another popular way of consuming it,” says homemaker, Jayati Sinha of Patna.
Found in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, it is a vegetable/fruit that can be consumed “nose to tail”, as architect and culinary enthusiast Tsarina Abrao Vacha puts it. “Raw or ripe — almost every part of it, including the seed, minus the rind, can be eaten. In Kerala, no part of the chakka (jackfruit in Malayalam) goes to waste. It is eaten in so many forms — from a vegetable stir fry to chips. The fruit is also eaten in so many ways; besides the ripe fruit, jackfruit is also made into preserves, payasam and snacks. But, I believe, it is not being used as much as it should be or could be,” she says.
Tree Goat Biryani
- The highlight of the banquet for Chennai-based restaurateur NS Krishnamoorthy’s daughter’s wedding recently was the range of dishes made from jackfruit. Biryani, sukka, roast, jackfruit seed curry and even the dessert — mukkani thaen (banana, jackfruit and ripe mangoes in honey). “Needless to say that everyone who attended the wedding will remember the spread,” chuckles Krishnamoorthy, of Prems Grama Bhojanam.
- Sous chef D Murugan, of Malgudi – The Savera (Chennai), has perfected jackfruit biryani. “We use tender, raw jackfruit which weighs around 750 to 800 grams. Only then we would get the desired texture and taste. It is flavourful because the jackfruit absorbs the masala, looks and tastes just like mutton,” he says of his Ambur style biryani.
- This mock meat biryani is trending as it is vegan, and is enjoyed by the health-conscious too, says Krishnamoorthy, who calls it a treat for vegetarians.
During the lockdown, in 2020, jackfruit was widely consumed and experimented with in Kerala when there was a scarcity of fresh vegetables in grocery stores. Traditionally, most Kerala homes have a tree in the backyard. With each tree, which grows organically, giving 50-100 kilos or more of fruit every summer, there is always enough for the household, neighbours and friends.
Pride of Kerala
In 2018, jackfruit was declared the State fruit of Kerala, celebrated for its high nutritional value. Kerala boasts several varieties broadly classified into two varieties — varikka (firm fleshed) and koozha (soft-fleshed). Since the State has trees that grow naturally, there aren’t too many plantations. The State Agriculture Department is promoting its procurement, trade and processing.
Even the rind is not discarded, says Sreelakshmi Prabhu, a MasterChef India contestant [Season 5] and home cook. Kochi-based Sreelakshmi’s ancestors migrated to Kochi from the Konkan coast.
“The rind of the tender jack is eaten, deep-fried. The leaf is also used to cook. For Ugadi, we steam idlis in them. The tree is important to us. We dry and preserve the rags [which hold the fleshy avril to the rind], use it as kondattam [crispy fries]. Tender jack, deep-fried and dipped in a mix of rice powder, chilli and turmeric and asafoetida tastes as good as fish!” she says.
Chennai restaurateur NS Krishnamoorthy of Prem’s Grama Bhojanam says, “If not biryani, sukka or curry, people at least make palakottai (jackfruit seed) sambar, and in villages it is usually made along with drumsticks, mango and brinjal. It is a rural delicacy, and you have to taste it to believe it!” At the restaurant jackfruit biryani and sukka are made every weekend on pre-orders.
When the vegetable is raw or semi-ripe, it does not have a distinct taste, unlike the ripe fruit. “The neutral flavour is its USP. It takes on the taste of the spice or ingredient that is added to it, the reason it works as mock meat. The ‘stringy-ness’ of the flesh and meat-like texture enhances the similarity to meat. I have used it even as a savoury filling for ravioli besides burger patties and barbecue too,” says Rajeev Menon former executive chef Crowne Plaza (Kochi), food coach and restaurant consultant.
The global superfood
“It is underestimated and ignored, wasted and fed to cattle… it is now in focus when we are conscious about plant-based foods which positively impacts the planet,” says Kochi-based Tsarina, who still remembers her first encounter with a contemporary jackfruit dish.
“It was in 2008, at a vegetarian café in Zurich. A tart with grilled pulled jack and shards of cheese… it was so different from how I knew it was cooked,” she says. She has been using it as a vegetable, fruit and flour in her cooking — in soufflé, baos, cakes, pies and even cheesecake. She adds it to her sourdough bread mix, with the flour. James Joseph, who came up with the idea of making flour out of jackfruit [branded as Jackfruit 365], says it is an energy-dense food, a replacement for vegetables and fruit. “The flour is vegetable in powder form — one tablespoon is equivalent to a serving of vegetables. It has properties that help with blood sugar management,” he says. Jackfruit’s protein and fibre keep its glycemic index low.
The flour is dehydrated, powdered jackfruit which extends its shelf life and lends itself to use in various ways — added to dosa batter, chapati dough, dal or any other dish. All the jackfruit he uses is sourced from across Kerala. “The jackfruit season starts first in the southern tip of Kerala, the other parts of the State follow. It does not happen all at once, so for almost eight-nine months a year, we have more than enough supply locally to match demand. I have suppliers who can get me 200 tonnes of jack per day; we process only 10 tonnes per day. The demand for flour has increased since October 2020,” he says.
He uses semi-ripe jackfruit, as the raw ones are exported — to other parts of India and abroad, and ripe ones to Tamil Nadu. All the jackfruit used is sourced from homesteads — uncultivated or ‘wild’ jackfruit as Joseph calls it.
(Inputs from Chitradeepa Anantharam)