Jack fruit has a lot of history behind it and no one is sure as to when it was cultivated first. If to day's experience is any guide the fruit tree must have been growing wildly though humans were quick to discover its value as a food. No wonder Brazil had to launch a massive program of felling thousands of these trees during 2002-2005 because of its uncontrollable spread in some regions. The tree grows in abundance in South and South East Asia where the it is well liked. Its heavy aromatic odor puts off many people and the slow metabolism in the human body leads to excretion for a longer time through perspiration and urine. The very same quality appeals to millions of people in India and other countries.
Does Jack fruit mean it is jack of all fruits as being claimed by some of the ardent fans? Many may not agree. Similarly some western thinkers hold the view that Jack fruit was discovered by one William Jack though there are recorded documents about its existence hundreds of years before this person. Most probably the name must have been derived from the Kerala name "Chakka" which the Portugese colonialists adapted as Jaca in their language. Though it is the largest tree borne fruit in the world with individual fruits weighing as much as 40 kg, 90 cm long and 50 cm diameter, very little scientific research had gone into the agricultural or technological aspects of this fruit. It is considered rich in vitamins A and C and potassium mineral and traditionally many believe it has some medicinal value too.
Sporadic research has indicated the amenability of ripe jack fruit to cold storage at around 11-12C for about 6 weeks and products like canned pulp, dried bulbs, fruit bar, preserves based on sugar or jaggery are made in a small way on cottage scale level. One of the major reasons for this fruit not being able to become a commercially useful raw material is the presence of sticky latex inside the fruit making it difficult to handle. With 25-40% yield of edible pulp, jack fruit could have become a serious competitor to Mango but for the presence of the latex inside the fruit. Very little information is available on the chemical nature of this latex though pre-1950 research suggested it was alpha-artostenone in its enol-wax ester form. Horticulture scientists ought to have done some thing to evolve a variety that does not have the sticky latex long ago but it was left to some enterprising jack fruit growers in coastal Karnataka to come out with a non-sticky variety that raises the potential of jack fruit as a commercial proposition.
According to the spokesman of Kerala Agri Varsity millions of grafts of non-sticky jack fruit have been planted in Karnataka and Kerala by many farmers. The fruit bulbs in these fruits are reported to be very crisp, tasty and keeps well for long. The mother tree of this non-sticky jackfruit seems to have originated from one Menezes family in Mangalore in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka and efforts were made to propagate this unique tree with the help of some grafting specialists. Except for a few drops of latex in the core portion, the fruitlets of this variety appear to be non-sticky. It is claimed that this non-sticky fruit has relatively less fiber though it is less sweet than traditional ones. Unlike the normal jack fruit trees the new variety bears smaller fruits with weights not exceeding 10 kg and with relatively thinner rind, ripe fruits pose logistical problems in long distance transport.
if some of the protagonists of the new non-sticky variety are to be believed the fruit bulbs stay well for more than a weak at ambient temperatures with its crispiness not being affected at all. Similarly fried chips made from raw fruit of this variety are claimed to "keep well" for 3 months. Despite these credentials marketing of non-sticky jack fruits poses intractable logistical problems and many new growers are finding to their chagrin the economic uncertainties in maintaining the trees. Their argument that some of the super markets in the country should come forward to market the fruit through branding deserves some attention and the state horticultural agency, HOPCOM and National Horticulture Board must take more interest in promoting this fruit in a big way. Similarly lot of technical improvements can still be brought about through the intervention of horticulture and food scientists. The SOS from the new breed of growers of non-sticky jack fruit must strike a favorable chord amongst the planners and the scientists.