There are many reasons to celebrate the rise in status of the abundant and versatile jackfruit
The name Jackfruit originates from the Malayalam name Chakka, which Garcia da Orta, a Portuguese scholar, wrote as ‘jaca’ in 1563. It later became jackfruit in English.
Chakka in Malayalam originates from ‘Che-Kai’, meaning a group of green fruits (kai) joined together. One jackfruit has many individual fruits joined at the core with a spiky green jacket. The name changes to idi-chakka (panasam apakvam in Sanskrit) when tender, and chakka-pazham (panasam pakvam in Sanskrit) when it is a fruit.
The primary name chakka is not for the ‘fruit’ but for the ‘green fruit’. It’s evident from the name various other Indian languages have used to describe it.
In Kannada, it is halasina ‘kai’, in Telugu it’s panasa ‘kai’ and in Tamil it’s pala ‘kai’. Kai, in all these languages, means green fruit, like green apple or green mango in English. Ancient Ayurvedic literature in Sanskrit also indicates that jackfruit should be consumed at the green stage: “panasam madhya pakvam lavanaadhiyuktham”, meaning ‘mid-ripe stage jackfruit is the most nutrient-rich’. Its Latin biological name Artocarpus stands for Artos-Carpus. In Greek, Artos means therapeutic bread and carpus means fruit. So if we look at jackfruit’s heritage closely, it was consumed as a nutrient-rich green fruit and as a therapeutic bread.
The status of jackfruit in Kerala has received a boost with the State recognising it as the State Fruit this week. To emphasise that it includes all stages of the jackfruit and not just the ripe version, Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar announced chakka as not chakka-pazham but as samsthana pazham. The English language has limitations in making this differentiation.
This is a proud moment for jackfruit campaigners from Kerala. Many farmers, NGOs, self-help groups, small-scale entrepreneurs, activists and journalists, along with the Jackfruit Promotion Council, worked for more than a decade to bring the long-forgotten kalpavruksh of Kerala back to prominence. They did this by conducting workshops to train SHGs and small entrepreneurs to make value-added products, and providing opportunities to sell these products through jackfruit fests and exhibitions across Kerala.
A turning point in linking the abundant supply of jackfruit with a huge demand in Kerala was the discovery of the green jackfruit meal as an alternative to rice and roti for diabetics. Kerala being the diabetic capital of India, everyone started looking at the suspended sticky spiky monster with a ray of hope.
Doctors, chefs and journalists began to talk about how one cup of chakka should be consumed daily, and how it can be consumed in powder form with traditional foods prepared at home, as an alternative to reduce rice and wheat.
People who had cut jackfruit trees to avoid the unwanted fruit piling up as waste, attracting flies in their backyards, started replanting them. Five years ago, jackfruit was being piled on roadsides, in the hope that someone would take it away for free. Now you see sellers beside weighing machines instead. Jackfruit products are on supermarket shelves. The cut fruit is available in vegetable shops across Kerala.
With the Government taking the lead in the marketing and promotion, the biggest commercial opportunity for green jackfruit now is to support WHO’s new mandate to reduce deaths from Non Communicable Diseases by one-third. Two key pillars of the action plan to achieve this are reducing calorie density, and increasing vegetable and fruit percentage in fast foods and packaged food products. If the Kerala Government can partner with WHO and the Indian Council of Medical Research to investigate the opportunity to use green jackfruit to work towards both these objectives, it could provide a huge export potential for jackfruit, not just from Kerala but from all Indian states.
The techie-turned-writer is a recipient of the Jackfruit Ambassador Award from Jackfruit Promotion Council. He is the founder of jackfruit365.com, a startup working to create an organised market for jackfruit by making it a healthy everyday food.