Frozen ripe jackfruit is the latest addition to the growing market of value-added products from jackfruit.
Bibil Thomas, a 29-year-old software engineer from Kumily in Idukki district of Kerala, has launched Jackobyte, which retails frozen ripe bulbs of jackfruit with a shelf life of three months. However, if blast freezing is done (-40 degree Celsius) the stock will last for two years, he says.
Only the varikka variety (jackfruit with firm, fleshed carpels) can be frozen. “The carpels are packed and frozen as soon as they are removed from the fruit. Otherwise the juice that oozes out will form a crystal around the carpel and that will affect the taste. I keep food-grade gel ice in the thermocol box when I transport the packets from Kumily to Kochi in a bus (nearly 160 km) so as to maintain the temperature.”
Bibil launched Jackobyte over a year ago. “It started when I got an order for 10 tonnes of ripe jackfruits from ice cream-major Vadilal in 2017. I sold 10 such loads in a month. When I delved deep into the industry, I realised that there is a market for frozen products as well. Now I am in talks with a supermarket chain to market Jackobyte,” he explains.
It is often the women in the neighbourhood who cut, clean and pack the fruit in 250-gm packets priced ₹60. “Currently I have Vietnam Super Early (VSE) variety, sourced from a farm at Kanjirappally in Kottayam district. By next month I will start getting other varikka varieties from across Kerala,” says Bibil.
He adds that it is important to have the same variety in a packet. “I usually get unda chakka from Munnar belt, besides neelan varikka , then varikka , Chembarathi varikka and VSE. I don’t recommend using then varikka while Chembarathi varikka is the best variety to freeze,” he says.
Farm journalist Shree Padre, who has been leading the campaign to promote jackfruit for many years now, is akin to a mentor for Bibil. Shree Padre says that while countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand are marketing frozen jackfruit, both ripe and raw, in a big way, India is way behind. “In Kerala there are nearly a dozen farmers who export frozen, raw jackfruit. Also, tonnes of tender jackfruit is transported from the state to parts of North India where they consume it as a vegetable. However, there are only a few who have attempted to sell frozen ripe fruits. All one needs is a deep freezer, vacuum packing machine and power back-up to set the business rolling,” says Shree Padre.
For instance, during the last jackfruit season, Thomas Scariya, also from Kumily, collected ripe and raw bulbs from nearly 20 households in the neighbourhood, deep froze the carpels and marketed it under the initiative of Agriculture Tourism Rural Development Society. “We get jackfruit for nearly nine months in Idukki. It is heartbreaking to see several tonnes of the fruit going to waste every year. So, during the lockdown, when the jackfruit season was at its peak, the Society spread the word around to bring us ripe fruits. Orders came in after we marketed it via Facebook. This year, we are planning to do it in a better way,” says Thomas.
Roy Chirayath, a Thrissur-based businessman, sold both ripe and raw carpels under his brand, All Fresh, at supermarkets in Kochi last year. “It has been a step-by-step venture for me. Initially I sold full jackfruit after which I moved to selling pieces of the fruit and then the frozen carpels. I got enough fruits from the trees in my backyard and the rest from my relatives’ houses nearby,” says Roy.
The normal jackfruit season is from March to June. In the high ranges it extends up to September and some varieties can be harvested till December. In addition to being a ready-to-eat product, especially during off-season, the ripe fruits are needed by companies that sell vacuum-fried products such as jackfruit chips. It will also find takers from among ice cream manufacturers, hotels, caterers and the like.
Frozen Jackfruit 2 Market, a WhatsApp group, was launched recently to pool ideas and create a market for frozen jackfruit, both ripe and raw. Shree Padre and Srikantha Shenoy, executive trustee of Bengaluru-based NGO, Initiatives for Development Foundation, are admins of the group that has 143 members. While most members are from Kerala and Karnataka, there is representation from other states as well.
Srikantha points out that concerted efforts are now being made to promote frozen jackfruit by the Chelur Hagalavadi Farmers Producer Company (FPC) in Gubbi taluk of Tumukuru district. “The FPC has 100 jackfruit farmers and they are chalking out a plan to sell frozen jackfruit in the upcoming season,” he adds. Udupi-based JC Deepak Kamath is another businessman who is doing the same. “I used to sell ripe jackfruit at my juice shop. Now that I have a deep freezer, I have plans to freeze the bulbs. I have an emotional connect with the jackfruit. Our ancestors used to prepare several dishes out of it and it has always been a poor man’s fruit in the days of poverty,” he adds.
Challenges are many if one is to start this business. Since each fruit matures at different time there is staggered harvesting. Transportation, cutting and cleaning are cumbersome processes. The weight of yield from a fruit might be negligible in some cases. For example, from a fruit weighing 10 kilograms the maximum yield could be 2.5 to 3 kilograms, Bibil elaborates. The quality of the fruit and proper branding are also necessary.
“Besides frozen ripe bulbs, I am also selling frozen raw fruits and frozen jackfruit seeds. Provided you are ready to work hard, jackfruit can be a money spinner,” Bibil says.
His products are sold under the brand of his company, Spized Organics. It is available at Farm Shoppe, run by Krishi Vigyan Kendra (Ernakulam) of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) and the Agricultural Technology Information Centre (ATIC) of CMFRI at its headquarters in Kochi.