When it comes to food, everyone is an expert. We have our favourite fruits, vegetables, snacks and desserts. Those who enjoy cooking prefer rustling up some dishes more than others. It is natural to have preferences. But what is certainly not okay is calling the perfectly useful and tasty jackfruit, a pest.
Zoe Williams at
The Guardian, who seems to have stumbled upon the jackfruit just a few days ago, has labelled it thus, and goes as far to call it a triffid. This is slander.
We who have grown up spending our summers eating the sweet yellow flesh — pried from the large belly of the leathery, ellipsoidal fruit — don’t think of it as a bother. It is not an easy fruit to consume, you have to first lug the heavy fruit, (it looks like a large lazy pig, napping against the tree), once the prickly fruit is safe on the ground, its tough green skin has to be skillfully cut open with an oiled knife. The sticky sap gets in the way of removing the fruit. Once you have a plateful of ripe jackfruit pods, you reach out for more.
A Utility Fruit
There are many indigenous varieties of jackfruit, however, in India, we broadly split jackfruit into two categories: the thick-skinned yellow fruit or the super sweet pulpy kind. Every part of the jackfruit is used well, the seeds popped out of the yellow juicy cocoons are boiled and used in curries. The remains of the carved fruit, the thick exterior is given to the cattle to ruminate upon. Unripe jackfruit is a part of our cuisine, the kathal sabzi or biryani is a prime example.
The Guardian article written with a blinkered, white-washed narrative is an abomination, especially when it says the jackfruit is “a spectacularly ugly, smelly, unfarmed, unharvested pest-plant native to India.” Williams goes even further and labels it “tasteless”. This is enough to make any Indian foodie’s blood boil.
Williams’ article is pegged at the jackfruit making its mark as a meat substitute. The populace of Northern America and Europe has been wolfing down jackfruit, (India exported 500 tonnes last year) not for its sweet ripe fruit, but for the unripe version that helps vegans with its resemblance to pulled pork. The carnivores-turned vegans urgently need to chew on something that resembles meat, yet saves their souls. Of course, despite the service provided by the jackfruit, it is still given bad press.
Williams goes on to add that "Some people ate it, but only if they had nothing better to eat." She could not have been more wrong or ignorant. Jackfruit has been part of Indian diet for eons.
Come To India
Kerala has a whole chakka (jackfruit) industry, the summer doesn’t kickstart in Goa until you get a basketful of ripe fruit in every household. And it is not just coastal areas that use the fruit to its fullest. North India uses raw jackfruit, to make the yummy kathal sabzi as often as it can. All parts of India, love their jackfruit and have numerous permutations and combinations of flavours that work with the fruit. India is not alone in this jackfruit loving. It is the official fruit of Bangladesh, and also grows in Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and several African countries.
What is not to like? You can make jam, pudding, ice cream, fruit leather, kheer, fritters… the scrumptious list goes on and it doesn’t include vegan pork. Dear white people, the jackfruit has never been an ugly duckling, and the jackfruit has its own identity, it doesn’t need to mask itself as meat. Please enjoy our native fruits, but keep your condescending tone in check. It leaves a bad taste.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi