A recent report in some news papers regarding the "original" work done in a University on processing of Jack fruit, the "largest tree borne fruit on earth", can evoke only some amusement because the researchers there have "developed" a series of mouth watering products from this fruit. These include srikhand, kulfi, wine and jam. Considering that Jack fruit has a history of 6000 years behind it, one can only wonder why no one had thought about making these products so far, leaving the task to a bunch of students in a University. The fruit growing as large as 35 kg in weight is a veritable bundle of sweetness and highly aromatic flavor, bordering on repugnance, liked or hated, depending on the people who consume them. The three main varieties that grow widely in different parts of the world vary mainly in the texture of the fruit bulb, hard to soft and pulpy.
Being a fruit rich in sugar the deseeded fruit bulbs can be converted into more than two dozen products at home though commercially only canned bulbs are made in very limited quantities, that too for export markets. While unripe fruits are consumed as a vegetable and for frying into chips like products popular in Kerala, ripe fruits, mostly available during March-August every year, coinciding with monsoon rains, are consumed fresh without any processing. It is a common sight to see road side vendors offering dressed bulbs on push carts in many cities in the South. Traditionally the fruit bulbs, after cutting into small pieces, are used to make a variety of preparations at home. The fruit bar made from the ripe Jack by sun drying, mostly in southern part of Karnataka, is an established product with good shelf life, being liked by many with its typical texture and mild flavor. A new product made by vacuum frying of semi ripe bulbs has been introduced recently and has found wide acceptance in the market.
There is no known orchard cultivating this fruit under controlled growing conditions as very little data is available on favorable inputs that can ensure maximum productivity. As it takes about 30 years for the tree to mature, Jack fruit never offers itself as an alternative to any of the existing economic crops. It is a tree that requires once in a life time investment, that too one's time to plant it and rest is taken care of by nature. High investment on Jack fruit is fraught with uncertainties in terms of yield, perishability, demand and marketing. Organizing cooperatives is also difficult because of these reasons.
Two biggest challenges in harnessing the goodness of Jack fruit for commercial operation are lack of standardization of fruit quality and logistical problems in extracting the edible portion under large scale processing. As only 25% yield can be expected, the waste generated also will pose problems of disposal. Most critical constraint is the presence of gummy latex in the whole fruit which can pose tremendous challenge for food engineers to design an appropriate gadget for extracting the edible part for achieving viable production volume under factory conditions. In one way it is better if mechanical gadgets are not invented because that can be a strength in a country like India where human resources are supposed to be available in plenty. Successful cooperative models for beedi making or papad manufacture, can be replicated to collect, process and make marketable products from Jack fruit for which initiative has to come from horticulture departments of some of the Southern states where the fruit is available in abundance.