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Jack of all tastes



Jackfruit – ripe, young – and its seed, is being celebrated in menus by chefs and home cooks

From Kerala to Meghalaya, if there’s one fruit that is a having it’s moment, it is the jackfruit. An off-season jackfruit mela was held in Bantwal, Dakshina Kannada last week. Restaurants are putting young green jackfruit (kathal) on their menus, not just in India but all over the world. Who would have thought that young jackfruit, which no one but your grandmother got excited over and turned into pickles, chips and curries, was being looked at now as ‘mock meat’ for it’s stringy texture that imitates meat? That the smelly, mammoth and unwieldy ripe fruit and it’s unripe version has found favour with epicures and research scientists, because it grows with minimum effort?

So far, ripe jackfruit and the young green jackfruit were consumed and used in cooking but now the jackfruit is going farther afield, from the kitchens into factories and processing units.

With yields of staple crops falling, food scientists are looking at the jackfruit as a substitute to staple grains like wheat and corn, says Prof Dr Shymala S, Deparment of Biotechnology, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVR, Bengaluru. Considered a sustainable crop, “jackfruit grows naturally and without much effort. In Karnataka, the Janagere and Tubagere belt near Doddaballapur is considered the jackfruit belt and we see a lot of genetic diversity there. Tender jackfruit (upto 6 weeks) is used in curries, dehydrated and used in off season, frozen and even added to pulps and jams.”

The tender jackfruit is rich in iron, phosphorus and potassium, Vitamin C and Calcium. “Since it’s rich in fibre, young jackfruit is considered good for people with diabetes,” adds Shymala.

When Manu Chandra, chef-partner, Toast and Tonic and Monkey Bar, put the kathal biryani on his menu, it was received with surprise, both from those who were acquainted with it and those who had just discovered it. For the few who knew of it, it was their first experience of eating the vegetable at a restaurant. For those who were not acquainted with young jackfruit, it’s stringy, soft texture and almost neutral flavour made it accessible. Chandra says the biryani quickly became one of the most ordered dishes at Monkey Bar, and at outdoor events too, even when the menu was largely non-vegetarian.

Today young jackfruit is finding itself on restaurant menus not just as a novelty but for its many intrinsic benefits.

“Over the last five to seven years, there is a conscious attempt by chefs to start embracing local food and it’s quite natural that young jackfruit should be explored too,” says Chandra whose restaurant Toast and Tonic has jowar, jackfruit and goat cheese tacos and a jackfruit dessert.

Since its entry onto menus some years ago, young jackfruit of late, is being processed into flour and pulp, dehydrated and frozen.

When Fab India launched its Fab Café in Bengaluru recently, a speciality on their menu was the young jackfruit flour paratha. Says Rebekah Blank, business development manager at Fab Café, “We use a lot of alternate flours like young jackfruit, quinoa, bajra. We use these flours to mix with regular flour when we make cakes, momos and chapatis. The kathal paratha has no other flours mixed into it. Young jackfruit flour is high in fibre and has a low glycemic index (carbohydrates with low GI cause a slow rise in blood glucose). It’s great for people with diabetes, and for those avoiding refined flour and are grain-free.”

Caroline Radhakrishnan, digital influencer and recipe developer has experimented with jackfruit wine laced with pepper which she says was a sell-out among her friends. Caroline makes jackfruit seed flour at home which she uses to make bread, rotis and as a substitute for regular flour. “I usually create recipes on the spur of the moment. We used to see an excess of jackfruit at my grandfather’s estate and the fruit would just fall to the ground. Most of it would go waste. I usually create recipes from ripe jackfruit which are traditional Mangalorean recipes like patholi or payasam. I’ve used ripe jackfruit in cakes and baked bread with the jackfruit seed flour. I’ve pickled young jackfruit in mustard oil and pureed ripe jack to be frozen for later use.”

Mariam Begg, health coach and clean eater, posted a photo of a ripe jackfruit and buckwheat flour cake recently on Instagram. “Though it was meant to be a cake, it came out like bread pudding. Despite the form, I loved the flavour and the texture. It’s a very different flavour and though I couldn’t bring myself to eat ripe jack for a long time, this was great,” says Begg. She says she was surprised to see young jackfruit replacing meat in burgers and sandwiches in London a few years ago. Begg has experimented with a young jackfruit and quinoa pulao, stirfried young jack, baked jack seeds, and loves jackfruit ice cream and payasam.

However, young jackfruit has been in a staple in traditional Indian kitchens. Monika Manchanda, digital influencer and food consultant, says young jack is used in curries, the most common being young jack and mutton, in Punjab. In Bengal, it’s called ’tree goat’ or a substitute for mutton. In Kerala and Dakshina Kannada, young jackfruit is used in curries and as fritters and chips. In Kerala, steamed young jackfruit is a substitute for rice and eaten with curries. The leaves of jackfruit trees are woven into baskets and used to steam idli batter to make khottos in South Karnataka.

But after the renaissance of ripe and young jackfruit, the seeds of this fruit are being researched in a big way. Beverages made with jack seeds (believed to be very close in aroma to coffee and chocolate) and masalas made of jackfruit seeds are already available. What’s next?

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