A Jack burger? Jack wafers? Jack mousse? Jack waffle? All that Jack. Yes, once the efforts of American Annie Ryu are realised, then 44 retail stores in America will have Kerala-grown dried, ripe jackfruit snack on their shelves. Soon other processed forms of jackfruit, as flour, pulp, seeds, will be in the western world, as foreseen by Annie and her partners in Southern India.
Annie’s first encounter with the jackfruit was on the roadside in Bangalore where a hawker thrust the ripe fruit bits atop a torn newspaper in her hand. She saw, she tasted it and fell in love with it. That was two years ago. Since then Annie, a senior at Harvard University has been working to get the jackfruit its due. She founded Global Village Fruits, a company that has been working on bringing the “jack community” together “to answer some of the questions that have never been answered, like its commercialisation.”
In Kerala she is working closely with Joseph Luckose, president of GRAMA (Group Rural Agriculture Marketing Association), an NGO based in Edappady, Kottayam, and with Chef Jose Varkey of the CGH group of hotels, whose role, he says, “is one of contemporary adaptation of this perennial fruit”.
Annie is bringing together growers, processors and researchers together to put the humble fruit-vegetable in a new light. Comparing and contrasting the jack to other foods like potato and strawberry, she says that the latter are popular thanks to a concerted effort at marketing them. “Potato was inedible initially and needed to be eaten with clay. A particular variety of any fruit or vegetable is consciously promoted, its goodness exemplified,” says Annie, who has collected 300 jackfruit recipes.
“The jackfruit is under-researched. It is indigenous, a bio-reserve of the Western Ghats. But research is essential for its promotion. The best varieties have to be identified. I am focussed on the ripe dried jackfruit at the moment,” says Annie, pointing out that 75 per cent of the produce currently goes waste.
Joseph who has been working on adding value to the fruit- vegetable speaks with passion about this “neglected, orphaned crop. This crop will play an important role in the 21st century to feed the world.” Quoting Malayalam folk songs that sing about the goodness of the fruit, Joseph says Parasurama himself has eulogised this humble fruit. Legend has it that he asked farmers in Kerala to grow and preserve the jackfruit so even when Yama, the Lord of Death, visits them, he is smitten by the taste of the fruit and grants them longevity.
Joseph speaks about every house having a jackfruit tree—provider of food, fodder, timber and fuel—of it being sacred. It is an evergreen tropical plant that helps in soil conservation and water retention. This “wonder fruit”, says Joseph, is versatile. Any number of recipes is possible. At the processing unit he has different packaged versions of the fruit, as chips, as seed flour used in kebabs and puddings, in shredded form for gravies and stir-fry preparations.
Annie has conferred with the jackfruit community and met Dr. Shyamala Reddy and Dr. Narayana Gowda of the University of Agriculture Sciences in Bangalore, the team that hosted the National Jackfruit Festival. “I am building the market for jackfruit,” she says, and along with Joseph, demands for subsidy for farmers growing the crop.
With much happening around the jackfruit, plans are afoot to make wine from it. Annie plans to start a Jackfruit Institute, much on the lines of the Breadfruit Institute in Hawaii. And of all the forms, varieties, types of jackfruit that she is presenting to the world, it is the jackfruit burger that she loves to have.