[Chakka (Malayalm); Jaka (Portuguese); Nangka (Malay), Mit (Viet); Kanoon, Khanun (Thai); Katahal (Hindi); Artocarpus heterophyllus]
Jackfruit is probably native to the Indian subcontinent and was carried to the Malay peninsula in ancient times. It has been cultivated for between 3000 and 6000 years. Today it is grown in almost all humid tropical lowland regions worldwide. A few are grown in Florida but not commercially. A variety grown in west central Mexico is different from the main Southeast Asian variety and is smaller, sweeter and less starchy with a somewhat different fruit cocktail-like flavor, but most shipped here from Mexico today are the Southeast Asian type.
Jackfruit is not only the largest of the mulberries, it's the largest
tree fruit in the world. How big they get varies by authority, but 80 pounds
and 3 feet long is a pretty safe number. Those sold in North America generally
run between 15 and 25 pounds. The photo specimen was about 18 inches long,
weighed 21 pounds and was grown in Mexico.
More on Mulberries.
General: Jackfruit is a seasonal crop, but the season is long, about 6 months, and the trees are highly productive. A jackfruit has an inedible core extending from the stem, and a thick inedible rind, pointy on the outside. Between the core and the rind are the fruit arils with their seeds They are embedded in "rags", which are actually unfertilized flowers that didn't develop into seeds.
Buying & Storing: Fresh whole jackfruits appear in the markets periodically. Here in Southern California they started to appear in markets in late August, all imported from Mexico. A fully ripe jackfruit will have a bit of flexibility in the outer rind, a light but distinct aroma, and may sound a bit hollow if patted. They should still be fairly green in color and have no evidence of cracking in the outer rind due to drying out. In season they are selling for about US $0.99 to $1.29 per pound. Currently, fresh unripe jackfruit does not seem to be available in Southern California but frozen is widely available.
Uncut jackfruits keep a few days at room temperature but start to dry out, evidenced by cracking of the green outer rind between the points and softening of the stem. Once cut the whole fruit should be completely disassembled. The yellow fruit arils can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a year or so. The seeds should be processed soon - they are not designed for durability and go to mold rather quickly. The "rag" is rarely used, but if you intend to, it should be refrigerated and used within a few days.
Jackfruit is also available in the frozen food section of markets serving Southeast Asian and particularly Philippine communities. This allows you to have jackfruit even if you can't commit to a 20 pound monster. Forms available are: slices of immature jackfruit (most useful for curry recipes) and frozen fruit arils.
Canned unripe jackfruit packed in brine is called for in many recipes of Asian origin. Though jackfruit arils packed in syrup are very common in the Asian markets here in Los Angeles, I haven't found the unripe jackfruit packed in brine. For those recipes use a package of frozen jackfruit.
Be Aware - the product sold as "Baby Jackfruit" is not a jackfruit at all, it's a Vietnamese bitter gourd called Gac. For details see our Gac Page.
Preparing:: The biggest problem when preparing a fresh jackfruit is the white latex sap it exudes when cut. This latex is nearly identical to the white glue sold in hardware departments. I recommended you coat knives, cutting surface and your hands with oil before proceeding and be prepared to wash and re-oil occasionally.
A workable strategy is to cut the jackfruit in half crosswise, then again lengthwise so you have quarters. Then cut out the core and start working on removing the seeds and fruit arils from the "rag". How difficult this is is highly variable depending on jackfruit cultivar and the individual fruit.
The "rag" is rarely used, but if you have a use for it, it should be cut away from the outer rind immediately, separating into individual strands and immersed in cold water acidulated with citric acid or lemon juice to prevent browning. After soaking for 15 minutes or so they can be squeezed out, bagged in plastic and refrigerated.
Clean-up is a problem also due to the latex. It's pretty much impervious to soap, detergent and even cleansers like Ajax or Comet. First wash off all the water soluble stuff, then use a solvent to clean off the latex. In Southeast Asia they use kerosine which is widely available there. I use Xylol because I have a can near at hand, but other solvents will work.
Yield: A 15 pound 6 ounce jackfruit yielded 3 pounds of yellow fruit arils (19%), 13-1/2 ounces of seeds (5.5%) and 1-1/2 pound of rag (10%). That all makes 35% edible if you use the rag, 25% if you don't.
Arils: The yellow arils surrounding the seeds need no cooking or other preparation except removing the seeds. They are a delicious fruit, tasting like a mix of banana and pineapple. Just eat as is, mix into fruit salads or whirl into fruit beverages.
"Rag": The rag in a ripe jackfruit is actually composed of unfertilized flowers, those that didn't develop into seeds. Many references describe it as "inedible", but that isn't entirely true. It's somewhat sweet, but can be bitter, and it's a bit fibrous, so it should be separated into individual strands (cut off any attached base) and steamed for 15 minutes to soften it before using in recipes. Taste it, and if it's too bitter, toss it.
Cooking: Recipes for cooking jackfruit almost always call for unripe jackfruit (whether they actually say so or not). Recipes of Asian origin usually just presume you know that. In India unripe jackfruit is called "Raw Jackfruit".