The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) also known as jakfruit, jack fruit (two words), jaca, and nangka, is a tropical tree originally from western India. There is archaeological evidence of the trees cultivation in India almost 6,000 years ago.
It is most extensively grown in India and Sri Lanka, but it is also grown in most tropical countries, especially in Southeast Asia, Brazil, and in parts of Africa.
A member of the mulberry family, the jackfruit is a relative of the breadfruit. It is a melon shaped starchy vegetable that can reach a length of 3 feet, and weigh up to 100 pounds, making it the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. The fruits grow both from the tree trunk and from branches in the tree. Jackfruit have a rough spiny skin and the uncut ripe fruit has a strong unpleasant smell, resembling rotting onions - but the cut fruit has a strong aroma similar to papaya or pineapple.
The largest jack fruit in this photo weighs about 60 lbs. and is about 2 feet long. The fruits in the photo on the bottom right are about 15 feet high in the tree and weigh about 20-50 lbs. (click photo to enlarge)
click photo to enlarge
The interior consists of large bulbs of pulp enclosing a seed up to 1 inch long, with from 100 to 500 seeds per fruit. The flavor is similar to pineapple & banana but less juicy. The green unripe flesh of jackfruit is cooked as a vegetable and used in curries, soups and salads. When ripe and sweet, it is eaten as a fruit. They may also be dried or pickled.
Jackfruit are mostly water, with about 8% sugar and 4% starch.
click photo to enlarge
The large seeds are roasted and have a flavor and texture similar to chestnuts. The seeds may also be made into a flour, and the flowers are sometimes used as a vegetable.
The fruits contain a sticky latex, so knives, cutting boards and hands should be coated with oil to protect them before cutting into the fruit.
The wood of jackfruit trees is used in construction, for furniture and musical instruments. The wood was a favored choice for royal palaces in Bali and for temples in Vietnam.
Jackfruit are rarely available fresh in the U.S., but can be found canned in Asian grocery stores.
UPDATE (4/10/12): I live in Winona, Minnesota (population 26,000) and today I came across canned Jackfruit and canned Longan in our local Hy-Vee supermarket. Chef James
Photos by Chef James, taken at Fruit & Spice Park, Homestead, FL