Jackfruit, also commonly called Jak, Jaka, and Nangka, is a member of the Moraceae (Mulberry) family. Although its exact origin is not known, it is believed to be native to the rainforests of the Western Ghats on the western coast of India. Today, the tree is cultivated at low elevations in many countries around the world, including Burma, the Philippines, India, Kenya, Uganda, Ceylon, southern China, and Malaya.
Jackfruit trees are very tall, typically ranging in height from 30 to 70 feet (9 to 21 meters), with dark green, glossy, leathery leaves. Trees grow best in humid tropical or near-tropical climates. The plant cannot tolerate drought, so sufficient rainfall or irrigation is necessary, as is rich, deep soil and low altitude (from sea-level up to 1,500 meters).
The fruit will begin to mature three to eight months after flowering. When ripe, the exterior changes from a light green to a yellow color and the cone-like points covering the surface will yield to moderate pressure. Inside, there is a central pithy core. Surrounding the core is both tough, undeveloped bulbs and yellow, fleshy bulbs. Fully mature trees can bear up to 500 fruits annually, though a typical yield is 150 to 250 fruits per year.
Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. One fruit can weigh from 4.5 to 30 kilograms, and in rare cases even grow up to 50 kilograms. Each fruit can have anywhere from 100 to 500 seeds inside. Both the fleshy bulbs surrounding the seeds and the seeds are edible. The flesh can be eaten when the fruit is both immature, when it will be starchy and similar to a potato, and mature, when the bulbs will be soft and fleshy with sweet flavor. Mature fruit are often eaten raw, fermented, or dried, while immature fruit is typically boiled, fried, or roasted. Seeds are also commonly boiled or roasted, similar to chestnuts.
With so many different ways to enjoy the fruit, it’s no wonder people from around the world use the fruit differently when cooking. The fruit is used in both savory and sweet dishes across Asia, including curries, jams, and puddings. At a recent Jackfruit festival in India, 98 unique jackfruit dishes were featured.