Artocarpus heterophyllus, or jackfruit, goes by many names including jak, jaca, nangka, khanun, khnor, maki mi, may mi, and mit to name a few.
Although its exact origin is unknown, the fruit is likely indigenous to the Western Ghats of India and was one of the first cultivated fruits. More broadly, jackfruit has historically been a staple food in India, Myanmar, China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
One of the world’s largest fruits, jackfruit typically weighs about 35 pounds although it can grow significantly larger, as one in India weighed 144 pounds. The fruit rind and core are inedible, but the flesh can be cooked or served fresh.
Ripened jackfruit has a strong odor, often described in colorful terms such as a mix of bananas and stinky cheese or even sweaty socks. Outdoor slicing and preparation are often recommended, followed by immediate disposal of the rinds.
Nearly all parts of the jackfruit tree can be used, including the trunk, leaves, fruit, and seeds. Although the fruit if often consumed fresh, both ripe and unripe, it is often cooked, canned, or processed into ice cream, jam, jellies, or pastes. Jackfruit is also considered a meat substitute due to its high nutritional value and texture when cooked.
Types & Varieties
A wide variety of species and cultivars of jackfruit are grown across Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and the United States. Since jackfruit is relatively new to the U.S. market, there is still uncertainty about optimal cultivars.
Generally, jackfruit comes in two types: firm or soft. Varieties recommended in the United States include Black Gold, Dang Rasimi, Golden Nugget, Honey Gold, Kun Wi Chan, Lemon Gold, and NS1. Most have been developed overseas in Australia or Malaysia.
Jackfruit’s outer skin, made up of hexagonal, conical apices, becomes greenish to brownish yellow when ripe. The flesh or pulp can range in color from amber to dark yellow or orange. Jackfruit is a compound fruit that contains between 100 and 500 seeds ranging in size from three-quarters of an inch and 1.5 inches in diameter. The seeds can be cooked and eaten, with a taste similar to chestnuts.
When the tree or fruit is cut or damaged, it will ooze a very sticky, white, rubbery latex that can be used as a glue or paste.
An evergreen, jackfruit trees can grow up to 80 feet in height but typically only reach 30 to 40 feet in the United States. It can be direct seeded or grafted and will then produce a long taproot and grow upwards with branches eventually spreading out to create a rounded canopy.
Trees grow well in tropical and subtropical environments, particularly in rich, deep soil to allow for proper root development. Before maturity, jackfruit trees do not tolerate overly wet soil conditions or temperatures below 28°F. Additionally, while jackfruit prefers ample sunlight, too much can result in sun scald.
The tree will begin fruiting in the third or fourth year; fruit should reach maturity on the tree, then ripen after harvest. Mature jackfruit can be hard to identify; characteristics include skin turning from light green to yellow or brownish green, spines more spaced apart that give a little when pressed, yellowing of the last leaf on the stalk, and, if tapped, the fruit will produce a dull, almost hollow sound.
Due to their large size and weight, jackfruit can be challenging to harvest. Fruit is harvested by hand, using a ladder and cutting the fruit at the stem with clippers or loppers.
Many prefer to harvest between mid-morning and afternoon as the sticky latex sap will not flow as readily. Tools should be coated with vegetable oil for harvest and cutting to prevent the latex from sticking.
A quality jackfruit will be of good size, well colored, rounded, and free from signs of damage or decay.