Jackfruit: A Stately Giant
Aug 31, 2011 04:16PM
● By Beth Davis
Marianne Luch with jackfruit
The jackfruit tree is beautiful to behold, forming a large, rounded canopy with glossy, dark green leaves, once it reaches maturity. Native to India, the evergreen species has been grown in Florida for more than a century. A fruiting tree presents an especially dramatic sight—Artocarpus heterophyllus produces the world’s largest tree-borne fruit, weighing as much as 80 pounds and measuring up to 36 inches long.
Although the jackfruit tree towers up to 90 feet in its native home, it rarely exceeds 40 feet in Florida, and the canopy height and spread of many modern cultivars can be effectively managed by pruning. Terminal buds should be frequently headed to encourage additional branching. Frank DeNardis, a master gardener specializing in large tropical fruit trees, says the jackfruit prefers full sun, but will grow and fruit in partial shade. A young tree should be watered twice weekly until established, but after that, is relatively low-maintenance. DeNardis says the tree should not be allowed to fruit until it has reached a height of at least eight feet.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences describes the jackfruit as a multiple fruit, which means it is composed of the coherence of multiple flowers. The fruit usually tips the scales at 10 to 80 pounds, although a few cultivars produce smaller fruit that weighs three to10 pounds. DeNardis says it is unlikely that a Florida jackfruit would reach 80 pounds—such behemoths are more common in Southeast Asia, India and the Caribbean.
The inedible skin of the fruit is extremely rough and thick, so determining ripeness can sometimes be difficult, but several characteristics provide clues. In many varieties, the skin color changes from green to light green or yellow; green fruits sound solid when tapped, while mature fruits sound hollow. The ripening jackfruit also emits a strong aroma that has been compared to the smell of rotting onions. This odor often discourages people from sampling the fruit’s delectable interior. “Sometimes, you have to hold your nose to eat it,” laughs DeNardis.
Within the leathery exterior are bulbs of flesh, nestled among a mass of tough fibers known as the ‘rag,’ which is comprised of unpollinated flowers. Each fleshy bulb surrounds a single seed. The number of bulbs and seeds depends upon the cultivar, the time of year and the extent of pollination of the fruit. The bulbs and rag are attached to a pithy core that runs through the center of the fruit.
The flavor of a ripe jackfruit has been described as a banana crossed with a mango and pineapple: sweet, aromatic and delicious. In some varieties, the flesh is crisp and crunchy; in others, it is soft and fibrous. Immature jackfruit may also be eaten as a vegetable and is often fried or used in soups and baked dishes.
DeNardis says the fruit should be harvested with clippers or loppers. The cut stem will immediately exude a white, sticky latex that can permanently stain clothing, so he suggests wrapping the cut end with a paper towel for ease of handling or setting the fruit on its side until the flow of latex stops. This gummy material can also make cleaning and cutting the jackfruit messy and time-consuming. For easier clean-up, DeNardis recommends coating hands, knife blades and work surfaces with vegetable oil.
The pulp of ripe fruit can be eaten fresh, stored, dried or processed. DeNardis estimates that cleaned jackfruit will stay fresh in the refrigerator for two weeks if kept in a sealed container. The seeds can even be boiled or roasted, and possess a chestnut flavor.
Like most fruits, the giant jackfruit is a nutritious snack. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is low in calories and fat and a good source of potassium, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. The jackfruit’s exotic flavor, combined with these healthful benefits, make holding our noses seem worthwhile.
For more information or to make an appointment to visit Frank DeNardis’ nursery, located at 108 Viking Way, in Palm River Estates, in Naples, call 239-597-8359