Jackfruit, the largest tree-borne fruit on the planet, is being hailed for its numerous health benefits and its possible ability to save millions of people from starvation.
Native to South and Southeast Asia, the jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh, and considered the country’s second most important crop after the mango. As the fruit is adapted to tropical and near-tropical climates, it is difficult to find in the United States, according to Purdue University.
Nyree Zerega, plant biologist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, has studied the “miracle crop” in Bangladesh. Each tree produces up to 150 jackfruits during the country’s two harvest seasons every year.
"And if you have space to grow something, you almost always have a jackfruit tree -- due to both its valuable fruits and timber," Zerega explained.
While the fruit itself is a source of vitamin C, the seeds are nutrient-dense, as they contain calcium, iron, potassium and protein, notes Tech Insider.
"It's a miracle. It can provide so many nutrients and calories -- everything," said Shyamala Reddy, a biotechnology researcher in India. "If you just eat 10 or 12 bulbs of this fruit, you don't need food for another half a day."
Throughout Southeast Asia, jackfruit is prepared and served in various ways, including in curries, juices, ice cream, and baking flour. People in India have been reluctant to add jackfruit into their diets, unlike people in Bangladesh.
"Historically, jackfruit has a reputation for being a poor man's fruit," Zerega explained. "It's not the kind of thing that many people would ever think of buying because it grows everywhere in certain parts of India."
Apart from food, the jackfruit tree can also be used in a variety of ways, from animal food and timber to clothing dye and glue. Many people also say it tastes like pork.
"It has five raw materials in one," said Shree Padre, who is advocating for jackfruit to be more widely used in his native India. "No other crop of the world will come near to the number of products and recipes that can be made from jackfruit."
Padre believes farmers in India could greatly benefit from properly harvesting the crop, instead of letting it go to waste.
"Countries like Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia are minting money from jackfruit,” Padre said. "Sri Lanka proudly calls it '[the] tree of rice.' But ironically, in [the] motherland of jackfruit, we still haven’t understood jackfruit's importance."