Friday, January 20, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Jackfruit (Jaca)

The world's largest edible fruit, the jackfruit (jaca in Portuguese), although not native to Brazil, is one of Brazil's most characteristic fruits, and is cultivated throughout the tropical regions of the country. This gigantic fruit has been known to reach a length of up to 3 feet (90 cm) weighing 80 lbs (36 kgs) or more. There are some vegetables which grow larger, notably members of the pumpkin family, but no other fruit reaches these dimensions.

The jackfruit (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.

The fruits can be eaten when immature or when they have matured. Immature jackfruit is savory in flavor rather than sweet, and in India and Sri Lanka it often substitutes for meat in curry dishes. Brazilians normally only eat mature, or sweet, jackfruit. In Brazil, three varieties are widely cultivated. Jaca-dura (hard jackfruit) has firm flesh and is the variety that reaches the largest size. Jaca-mole (soft jackfruit) is a smaller variety and it is noticeably sweeter as well as softer. Midway between these two in terms of sweetness and consistency is the third variety, jaca-manteiga (butter jackfruit). The fruit is sweet, starchy and good source of dietary fiber. The flesh of an opened jackfruit can be pulled apart into bright creamy-yellow segments, each of which contains a seed. The fruit is highly aromatic, almost flowery, and the taste has been described as a cross between a tart banana and bubble-gum.

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!

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice explanation on Jackfruit. World's largest edible fruit also has brothers and sisters. Did you know that?