Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Jaca

The Jaca (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is one of several fruits well known in Brazil, but unlikely to find itself in a supermarket in England. Actually it's originally from Asia, and is for example, the national fruit of Bangladesh.

The Jaca, or Jack fruit to give it it's English name, holds the distinction of being the largest fruit in the world, reaching an incredible 36 kg in weight! Because of this the fruit are not out on the branches, which would break under the stress, but hang directly from the trunk. The trees themselves are large and stately reaching up to 25m high.

As I said, the Jaca originates in Asia, and was probalby transported to Brazil from Kerala by the Portuguese. But it flourishes in the Mata atlantica, and indeed is sometimes considered a pest! It's fruit are eagerly devoured by coati, which then deposit the seeds around the forest, where the fast growing Jaca (1.5m/yr!) often out strips native species. This also artificially boosts numbers of coati who then go on to raid nests for eggs and nestlings. Because of this national parks often clear wild Jaca saplings, with, for example, over 50,000 being culled from the Tijuca Forest park near Rio between 2002 and 2007.

Eating a jackfruit is, problematic. Firstly, mature fruit emit a strong, distinctive smell, said to resemble rotting onions. Secondly, the fruit is covered in spines, thirdly cutting the fruit relesaes a sticky latex which will accumilate on knives and skin unless pre-coated with cooking oil. And fourth, the flesh tastes of banana, which is itself enough to dissuade this author!

Although there seem to be many delicious recipes for Jaca from Asia, I could not find any from Brazil. The fruit is ususually eaten fresh, or as a juice. Take care though, the flesh is hard to digest, and, anecdotally, several people have died from getting carried away and eating a whole one!

2 comments:

Steven said...

You said:
"anecdotally, several people have died from getting carried away and eating a whole one!"

That sounds like a typical restaurant meal in Brazil, enough to feed a family of four for a week :)

Ruth Stephen said...

A very informative post as usual. So here are my thoughts as a person born and raised in Kerala. It was interesting to note the differences in perception of various smells between nationalities. The smell of jack fruit is a desired smell among Keralites, who I doubt would equate it to rotting onions. Jack fruits are a sought after commodity in Kerala and one of my favourite fruits. In fact, Keralites who are based overseas try to time their visits home during jack fruit season.
Jack fruit trees are not considered pests but are revered in Kerala . The wood of mature jackfruit trees are used for making furniture. There are so many subspecies of jackfruit trees with fruits that are of different texture, water and sugar content and colour. Yes, it is indeed difficult to cut open the fruit, but the effort makes the jack fruit taste even better . In kerala , jack fruits are consumed in the ripened raw form, or the ripened fruit is mixed with sugar and melted butter and converted into a sort of marmalade . The seeds of the ripened jack fruits are not wasted but are cooked with salt and spices and served as dishes on their own or are added as ingredients to other keralite dishes. Even the raw jack fruit has its use. The inside of the unripe jack fruit are shredded into fine pieces and sautéed and used as side dish accompanying rice. Of the leathery fruits in the un ripened form is sliced into thin strips and fried and sold as jack fruit chips. The spiny outer covering is not wasted and is often fed to cattle who seem to love it. And yes it is easy to imagine someone getting carried away eating a whole one ! I am not surprised of the anecdotal ‘deaths’ because they can cause allergic reactions in some individuals.