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All that’s jack

PRIYADERSHINI S.
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People Annie Ryu from America is so fascinated by the jackfruit that she is trying to promote it in India and present it in all its variety to the Western world

POPULARISING JACKFRUITAnnie Ryu with Joseph LuckosePhoto: Thulasi Kakkat
POPULARISING JACKFRUITAnnie Ryu with Joseph LuckosePhoto: Thulasi Kakkat

Ajack burger? Jack wafers? Jack mousse? Jack waffle? All that’s jack. Yes, once the efforts of American Annie Ryu are realised, then 44 retail stores in America will have Kerala-grown dried, ripe jackfruit snacks on their shelves. Soon other processed forms of jackfruit — the flour, pulp and seeds — will be available in the western world, as foreseen by Annie and her partners in South India.

Annie’s first encounter with the jackfruit was on a roadside in Bangalore where a hawker thrust the ripe fruit bits wrapped in a piece of newspaper in her hand. 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 works to bring 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 the contemporary adaptation of this perennial fruit.”

Annie is bringing together growers, processors and researchers to present the humble fruit-vegetable in a new light. Comparing the jack to other foods such as potato and strawberry, she says the latter are popular thanks to concerted marketing efforts. “Potato was inedible initially, and was eaten with the clay on its outer skin. Any fruit or vegetable has to be consciously promoted, and 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 focussing 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. It will play an important role in the 21st Century to feed the world.” Quoting Malayalam folk songs that extol the goodness of the fruit, Joseph says Parasurama himself has eulogised it. Legend has it that he asked farmers in Kerala to grow and preserve the jackfruit so even when Yama, the Lord of Death, visited them, he would be smitten by the taste of the fruit and grant them longevity.

Joseph speaks about every house having a jackfruit tree — provider of food, fodder, timber and fuel — and of it being considered sacred. It is an evergreen tropical tree 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, and 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 a market for jackfruit,” she says, and along with Joseph, demands that a subsidy be given to farmers growing it.

Starting an institute

With much happening around the jackfruit, plans are afoot to make wine from it. Annie plans to start a Jackfruit Institute, on the lines of the Breadfruit Institute in Hawaii. And of all the forms, varieties and types of jackfruit that she is presenting to the world, it is the jackfruit burger that she loves to have.

PRIYADERSHINI S.

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 focussing on the ripe dried jackfruit at the moment

Annie Ryu

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