Joy of Jackfruit
Only a few years ago, this massive fruit with its powerful fruity aroma seemed to be a novelty in South Florida, little known except to tropical fruit aficionados and members of the Asian community. Today, you can find fresh jackfruit at farmers markets, on restaurant menus and in backyards with increasing frequency.
“There is definitely more awareness today,” says Dr. Richard Campbell, director of horticulture and senior curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden. “The jackfruit has a strong cultural connection with the people of Asia. Here in South Florida there is a growing awareness of the jackfruit that comes through these ethnic groups. Mango is indeed highly successful in South Florida and is our biggest farm-gate fruit, but jackfruit is also strong and growing. Using the Asian culture and awareness, South Florida farmers and markets have been successful with jackfruit.”
A member of the mulberry family, the jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is native to Asia. Its spiky bright green fruits, weighing upward of 30 to 40 pounds, hang from the trunk. Inside are fleshy arils surrounding large, starchy seeds. Green jackfruit has a meaty quality and is often used as a vegetable in curries. Ripe flesh is reminiscent of bananas, pineapple, mango and Juicy Fruit gum. Its powerful perfume sometimes provokes a love-it-or-hate-it response, but Campbell blames that reaction on inferior fruits.
“The strong response stems from the overpowering aroma and unfortunately poor quality experience that is often offered to the jackfruit neophyte,” he says. “If one is introduced to a superior jackfruit at the peak of quality it is well accepted by most. Children are most likely to enjoy the jackfruit. Green jackfruit does widen the appeal as well through the addition of a meaty texture and range of taste experiences.”
Jackfruit trees are easy to grow in South Florida, he says. They are frequently offered as part of Miami-Dade’s free Adopt-A-Tree giveaways. Care is similar to avocado. “Fertilization, watering and pruning are key,” Campbell says. Tried-and-true varieties for South Florida include ‘Black Gold’ and ‘Gold Nugget.’ “The new selections from Fairchild came from our breeding program whereby we wanted to achieve excellent quality with a smaller-sized fruit. The new selections also are productive and have greater cold tolerance than our traditional jackfruit.”
Campbell sees a huge potential for jackfruit in this hemisphere. “It is versatile and productive. It fits in with subsistence and big agriculture. It can be used for forestry. Our new varieties are manageable, small-fruited and delicious,” he says. “The future is bright for this rising star of the tropical fruit world.”
See Dr. Campbell and other experts at the Jackfruit Jubilee at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Sat., Sept. 13 from 9:30-4:30pm. There will be plant sales, jackfruit tastings, lectures on the fruit’s origins and background, cooking demos by chef Allen Susser and classes on growing and caring for jackfruit trees. For more information, click here.