Friday, January 20, 2012
Artocarpus heterophyllus) originated in South or Southeast Asia, and archeological evidence shows that it has been cultivated in India for more than 3000 years. It is still widely cultivated in Asia, and is closely associated with the cuisines of India, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. From Asia it was introduced by the Portuguese to Africa (it's grown extensively in Uganda and Mauritius) and to the New World (Brazil and the Caribbean).
Although the jackfruit tree was deliberately introduced to Brazil, its introduction has had negative effects environmentally and outside of jackfruit plantations it is considered an invasive species. In forest reserves and in native rain forests it has been subject to culling to minimize the damage it can cause to native species. In Rio de Janeiro's urban Tijuca rain forest, where its spread has been aided by marmoset monkeys, more than 55,000 seedlings have been uprooted in an attempt to stop its spread.
A jaca tree is an impressive sight, even more so when it is bearing its massive fruits. The tree can grow up to 80 feet (25m) high with a canopy spread of 22 feet (7m). The wood of the jackfruit tree is a beautiful orange-brown in color and is used in the manufacture of wood furniture. The fruits either hang from the branches of the tree, or startlingly sprout directly from the trunk of the tree. The fruits look like large rounded, spiky sacs and are usually a yellowish-green in color.
Buying a whole jackfruit is something that only the largest family might consider, as the fruit ripens and spoils rapidly in Brazil's hot climate. For this reason, in Brazilian markets and road-side fruit stands it's common to see a jaca already cut open. Customers can specify whatever weight they want, and the vendor will cut off a chunk with a machete.
Most of the jackfruit consumed by Brazilians is eaten fresh and natural as a snack or dessert. There are some desserts and conserves made from jackfruit, and in the next posts, we'll feature some. In North America fresh jackfruit can often be found in Asian (particularly Philippine) markets, and most Asian markets will sell canned jackfruit - be careful as both immature and mature jackfruits are canned, so make sure to buy the one you want. Also be careful not to buy a jackfruit based on looks - the very similar looking but unrelated durian has some characteristics (e.g. smell) that might just have an unwanted effect on your family!