Could jackfruit flour be a healthier alternative to white rice?

A tropical fruit that grows on a tree of the Mulberry family. It is eaten raw, dried, or in cooked form in Southeast Asia and India. Sometimes called Langka. This cluster is on a tree growing in a village in the Mekong delta of Vietnam.

A tropical fruit that grows on a tree of the Mulberry family. It is eaten raw, dried, or in cooked form in Southeast Asia and India. Sometimes called Langka. This cluster is on a tree growing in a village in the Mekong delta of Vietnam.   | Photo Credit: earleliason

With the availability of jackfruit flour, it is now easy to include raw jackfruit in our diet

For people from Kerala, summer is associated with the fruity smell of ripe jack fruit. The trees are found in the backyard of almost all houses and the fruit requires a certain skill to cut open. The fruit is used in all its forms; tender, mature and ripe. While the tender ones are used to make curries, the mature ones are made into a puzhukku (where the bulbs are cooked with shredded coconut). It is also sliced into strips and fried to make chips. The ripe ones are eaten as such or made into snacks like kumbilappam and desserts like chakka pradhaman.

Even so, have we used it to its full potential commercially? “Not really. It is still hard to find jackfruit in hotel menus. It is also often looked down upon as a poor man’s food,” says James Joseph, founder of Jackfruit 365, a company that sells raw jackfruit flour. Not many studies have been done on the jackfruit. “The lack of awareness about its nutritional benefits is the biggest reason for this. People are reluctant to experiment with a fruit that they are familiar with.” The state of Kerala declared it as its official fruit in 2018. “This changed a lot of things. It was seen in the market, selling for ₹20 to ₹25 per kilogram,” he says.

James was working with Microsoft when he got interested in jackfruit. “I spend many years of my life abroad, and when I came back home on vacation, I realised that including jackfruit in my diet made me feel lighter. I had the same feeling as having a Caesar salad.” Later, while he was dining at a restaurant, he noticed that it was not usually used as a substitute for meat in dishes, except in North India. “The chef told me about the practical difficulties in using it. It was messy, smelly and seasonal. In addition to this, only an experienced chef would know how to cut it.”

He realised that there was an untapped potential for jackfruit in the market and started experimenting with it. “I worked with a few chefs and they made a burger with raw jackfruit and jackfruit pie with the ripe one. I was amazed at the texture and the taste.” In 2012, he quit his job and launched his brand in 2013. “Initially, I sold freeze-dried jackfruit. But I realised that for it to have a wider reach, I should make it into a flour that can go into idli, dosa batter and usual roti flour. I stopped producing it and instead made flour out of it in 2017,” he says.

James also invested in research. According to the ‘Nutritional, Glycemic and Ecological Assessment of Green Jackfruit for Diabetes in Kerala’, a research study commissioned by him and published in the International Journal of Diabetes, the calorie, carbohydrate and glycaemic load of raw jackfruit is 40% less in comparison to rice. This could potentially make it a healthier alternative to white rice, for those who have diabetes.

It also shows that the fibre content of raw jackfruit is two times more. James adds a compound called pectin, extracted from jackfruit, to improve its binding quality.

Dr Lalitha Appukuttan, general physician and HOD, Naturopathy department, NIMS Medicity, Thiruvananthapuram, says, “I have been suggesting it to my patients for the past two years. Over the course of time, I have noticed that their blood sugar levels have decreased. There is also an increase in their energy level. Many lifestyle diseases are because of our high-calorie and low-fibre diet. I believe that raw jackfruit flour has a capacity to control it to an extent,” she says.

Chef Sunil Chauhan, Co-founder of Fab Café, says that he has been using jackfruit flour for the past one year. “Now, people are very health conscious and they are looking for gluten-free options to include in their diet. We had chapatis made out of wheat flour, which is temporarily taken out of the menu. The chapatis were softer and had a slight bitter taste compared to the ones made with wheat flour. But, it is not easy to knead and roll it out.” Sunil adds that the availability of jackfruit flour has made it easier to use. “It is also sustainable, being available easily in our country.” The café now serves momos made of a blend of jackfruit flour and root starches. “Our customers were eager to try it out and I got a lot of positive feedback.”

What James wants is for more research to be invested on raw jackfruit flour, in order to understand its true nutritional benefits.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2020 9:55:14 AM |

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