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Saturday December 14, 2019

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The most complete independent agricultural publication in Belize. With Printed and Online versions available.

With fruits weighing from 10 pounds to over 70 pounds growing from its trunk and lower branches, this tree begs for a second look and in more ways than one! Not only is the jackfruit an amazing fruit to behold, it’s also a highly versatile, resilient and nutritious tree crop that is suitable for growing in many areas of Belize.  Jackfruit is known scientifically as Artocarpus heterophyllus. There are many common names like jakfruit, jak, jaca, chakka, nangka, langka, khanun, khnor, mak mi and jaqueira to name quite a few. It is in the Moraceae family along with breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), champedak (Artocarpus integer), mulberry (Morus sp.), and fig (Ficus sp.). Native to India, Malaysia and other lowland tropical forests of Southeast Asia, the fruit has been carried and distributed throughout the tropics. It is popular in Jamaica where it has been commonly grown for hundreds of years. So important to Bangladesh that it is the national fruit. It is also the state fruit of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in India where the fruit is highly valued and has been an essential staple for thousands of years.

The jackfruit tree is a multi-functional tree for the home garden or commercial orchard.  Once established it requires very little care or outside inputs.  Although drought resistant, it does benefit from mulching for moisture retention, especially important during dry season. It can be easily pruned to fit your growing space and makes a good wind barrier. Jackfruit is excellent for intercropping in mixed fruit orchards and cocoa plantations because of its upright columnar growth structure and ability to fruit in varying levels of sunlight exposure. Jackfruit is also a valuable lumber product that is used for furniture and instrument making.  The fruit has few pests and diseases but if left ripe on the tree, is vulnerable to birds and other animals like coatimundi.  Overripe or imperfect fruit can be fed to livestock and is devoured by pigs. The fruit is best picked when it begins to change color towards yellow and the pointed sections begin to spread out. You can thump the fruit to listen for a deep, hollow sound. Once you determine the fruit is full it can be cut from the tree and stored in shade while it ripens. In 3 to 9 days, the fruit softens and begins to emit a strong aroma. This is when you know it is ready to eat. But first you have to clean it!

Cleaning a jackfruit can be quite challenging until you get the hang of it. Both the ripe and the green jackfruit emit a very sticky latex substance. Coating your table, knife and hands with coconut oil before you begin allows for a much easier cleanup. There is more than one way to process the ripe fruit, but it’s best to cut it in half, then quarter each half. Next, carve the sticky inner core completely away from each quarter piece. At this point it is easy to twist each quarter, making the individual fruit pieces, or arils, easy to remove. Once you pull the large aril from the smaller undeveloped pieces or “rag” remove the seeds and attachments. You can boil the seeds (25 – 30 minutes, until they are soft; then peel them) or roast the large seeds but be sure to save some for planting! Depending on your experience and if you have extra hands helping you, the cleaning process can take over an hour.

To clean the green jackfruit select an unripe fruit around 8-10 pounds.  Chop the unripe jackfruit into pieces then remove the outer skin or remove this after boiling. The same applies to the core. Place the chopped pieces into a large pot and boil them for 35-45 minutes until they are soft. To shorten cooking time a pressure cooker can be used.  If time permits, boiling over a fire hearth adds a nice flavor. Strain the hot vegetable; when cooled clean any remaining seed coats or peel. This pre-boiled product can be frozen or used immediately. We enjoy it most when it is sautéed in oil and spices until it becomes crumbly and slightly crisp.  It is excellent in tacos, salbutes, stir-fry and curries. Preparation time for pre-boiled jackfruit is around 1 1/2 hours, not including cooling time.

You might wonder if it is worth the time that it takes to process a jackfruit for eating.  Only if you like fruit that is flavored with hints of pineapple, mango, banana and soursop to varying degrees. Also on average, a fresh jackfruit yields around 10 pounds of processed fruit for every 30 pound fruit. For the unripe jackfruit, a 10 pound fruit can yield around 5-6 pounds after pre-boiling. Considering the ease of growing a jackfruit tree and the amount of food it produces, it is well worth planting this highly valuable food. It is so versatile it can be eaten out of hand, frozen, made into various sweet dishes, freeze dried, cooked as a vegetable and even made into flour.  The seeds can be boiled, roasted, made into a hummus or used in many various recipes. Jackfruit is an excellent source of fiber, carbohydrates, protein, vitamin B6, vitamin C and potassium and should be considered an important source of food for tropical countries.

Before planting jackfruit trees, you might want to consider whether to plant seedlings or grafted trees. The great thing about seedlings is the uniqueness of each tree’s fruit. Some can be crunchy while others are soft with fruit ranging in color from light yellow to reddish orange. Jackfruit is very easy to grow from seed and good tasting fruit will generally bear good offspring and you just might grow a new favorite variety. While such variety is ideal it can provide some challenges that could be prevented by using grafted trees of known varieties. Grafted varieties are commonly used in commercial production and selected for qualities such as fruit size, flavor and texture. Since large fruit size can be a barrier in the marketplace, trees bearing smaller fruits have been developed and are now available.  Grouping grafted varieties might be a helpful layout for harvesting purposes. Choosing the right plant really depends on what is important to you and what is available. If growing from seed, be sure your seeds are fresh and keep them moist as they are recalcitrant and do not last too long outside of the fruit.  If planting a tree, it should be about 15” to 24” tall. Be sure that it is not root bound as maintaining a straight taproot is important for this tree. You should allow for a 20-25 foot growing space for a jackfruit tree.  We encourage everyone to try growing a jackfruit tree if you like it and have the space. Growing and processing your own jackfruit is a great way to prevent the need for packaging and transport which, in turn, can save energy.

With good reason, jackfruit is becoming more and more popular as people learn about this valuable food source.  It is even becoming readily available, both fresh and green, in markets throughout temperate climates as far as Alaska.  Jackfruit is a meal enhancer and can be used in meat or non-meat dishes alike.  Jackfruit stands on its own as a main dish, a side dish or bulk to any recipe as it easily blends and takes on the flavors that surround it.  Fortunately, jackfruit can grow productively in Belize in many yards, farms, parks or school yards. It is one of many crops to consider planting for its resilient nature, versatility and large yield. When it comes to food security in the tropics this is not a tree to be ignored. Plant a few jackfruit seeds today and you can have fruit of your very own in just 3 to 5 years.  Share your seeds and before too long everyone will have a JACKFRUIT TREE!

Marquita Stanko is an agro-forestry reserve manager in Belize. Over 100 acres of the reserve is dedicated to growing tree crops and bamboo. The major trees are jackfruit and also breadfruit varieties new to Belize which are planted alongside bamboo, coconuts, caimito, sapodillas, mangos and many other tropical fruit trees. Marquita is coming into her 3rd jackfruit season here in Belize and is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the local food market.

Photographs by Marquita Stanko & Sally Thackery, story by Marquita Stanko for the Belize Ag Report

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