Hitting the jackfruit jackpot: Rise of the messy, smelly fruit

Hitting the jackfruit jackpot: Rise of the messy, smelly fruit

Jackfruit was much neglected until a Kerala-based entrepreneur revolutionised the way it’s used and consumed

Fritters made with jackfruit

Jackfruit gets a bad rap, no matter what way it’s sliced or diced. But a small company Kerala, a state in south India, is changing the way the fruit is eaten — and helping India’s diabetics along the way. Jackfruit365 has changed perceptions about the stinky and awkward fruit by developing freeze-dried and powdered jackfruit that is low on the glycemic index and makes the fruit more accessible to chefs all year round.

A clinical study conducted by Sydney University’s Glycemic Index Research Service (SUGiRS), on 30 grammes or, about a cup of raw Jackfruit365, found it has a lower Glycemic Load (GL) of 17 when compared to one cup of cooked rice which has a GL of 29 or two wheat rotis (Indian flatbreads) with a GL of 27. GL is a number that estimates by how much the food will raise a person’s blood sugar level after consumption.

As a disclaimer, the study was commissioned by Jackfruit365 with fund support from Kerala Industrial Development Corporation in early 2016, but SUGiRs is counted as one of the best in the world for studies on Glycemic Index (GI).

Jackfruit365 is the brainchild of James Joseph who set it up in 2013 to develop and diversify the then-limited jackfruit market. “Around 80 per cent of jackfruit is reported to be wasted every year,” explains the entrepreneur, a former director for executive engagement at Microsoft.

Joseph hit upon the idea while having dinner with clients at The Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Chef Hemant Oberoi’s signature dish, Varqui Crab, was a hot favourite, but Joseph also noticed two of his guests relishing Varqui Kumbh — which is prepared using mushroom instead of crab meat.

The Kerala native who grew up with jackfruit trees in his backyard couldn’t help wondering if the same dish could be prepared with the fruit. A chat with the chef revealed that jackfruit wasn’t popular in the kitchen as it takes too long to clean. Besides, jackfruit’s overwhelming pungent aroma fills the air and it’s available for only a few months of the year.

Short season

However, Joseph was not ready to give up. “A Jackfruit tree in the yard extends human life by 10 years,” his uncle often said. “During its short season, it works like a bottle brush for your intestinal walls.”

Joseph took the plunge and launched Jackfruit365 to make jackfruit available in freeze-dried form. Once considered a poor man’s food, jackfruit soon found a place on the tables of elite hotels.

“It’s easy, just like preparing milk from milk powder,” says chef Jaffar Ali of Taj Hotels in Kochi, who finds Jackfruit365 easy to handle and convenient to use in a variety of dishes, replacing apple and potato.

Jimmy Kuruvilla, the food and beverages manager at the Leela Palace in Bengaluru, remembers the bewildered look on his chef’s face when he asked him to prepare a jackfruit pie using Jackfruit365. The not-too-happy chef attempted it though, and surprised by the end result, he then experimented with new dishes using Jackfruit365 — including Danish pastries, muffins and tarts.

Little did Joseph know then that it was just the beginning of his journey with jackfruit. A chance meeting with a local parish priest, Father Thomas Brahmanavelli, took Jackfruit365 to the next level.

A diabetic, Thomas said he had a hypoglycemic episode after consuming chakka puzhukku — a jackfruit curry. After dinner, Thomas took his insulin shot but collapsed soon after. When he woke up two hours later, he found his sugar level to be 50 mg/dl. A fortnight later, he enjoyed chakka puzhukku again but this time with a few pods of the ripe jackfruit. He also reduced his insulin dose by half. He again experienced symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Was the jackfruit to blame?

Joseph discovered that diabetic patients are advised to avoid jackfruit. Joseph then approached Sterling Farms Laboratory in Kochi to check the sugar level in freeze-dried Jackfruit365. The results showed the unripe pack had sugar of 10.2gs while the ripe pack had 57.6gs. Feedback from customers of raw Jackfruit365 showed some diabetic patients found it helpful in controlling their condition, while pre-diabetic customers claimed to have success in reverting their condition.

The SUGiRS study also reinforced its health benefits — the humble jackfruit could be called the new apple to keep doctors at bay as far as diabetic patients were concerned.

Jackfruit is high in insoluble fibre and, when consumed, passes through the body without being fully digested. Young jackfruit too has the look and texture of meat and could substitute as a meat replacement.

One customer from Gujarat complained about his sugar level spiking after consuming Jackfruit365 — but it was later found that the customer had ordered the ripe fruit instead of the green raw fruit.

“To avoid such mishaps in the future, we discontinued the production of freeze-dried ripe jackfruit and focused only on the green raw jackfruit,” Joseph says.

He still treasures his meeting with the late president of India, Dr A.P.J. Kalam in 2014. The president had read Joseph’s book, God’s Own Office, and wanted to meet the author. Joseph presented him with Jackfruit365. The president was impressed.

“It makes absolute sense, a combination of low glycemic index and high fibre of raw jackfruit can very well result in low absorption of sugar to the body,” Dr Kalam said. “That is just pure science, but what is new here is it is possible to eat unripe jackfruit as a meal instead of rice or roti. Diabetes is a huge problem for India, and you must show people what can be made with raw jackfruit as a diabetic diet.”

His words inspired Joseph further.

“We have developed a patent pending all-purpose flour which can replace a third to 100 per cent of most common main meals and breads,” says Joseph, who was recognised as the jackfruit Ambassador of the Year by the National Jackfruit Promotion Council in 2016.

“A new machine peels and converts the entire green jackfruit into flour without any human touch,” he says. “This has helped process large quantities of jackfruits with minimal labour costs at international standards of hygiene.”

Recently, Kerala Technologies University floated a contest to develop a jackfruit plucking machine. “Plucking jackfruit is not easy,” says Joseph, who was part of the jury. “When it drops down, it is easily damaged.”

Out of 127 applications, 24 students were shortlisted to present their designs and six were finally selected. “The six were impressive and low-cost proposals,” he says. “KTU has awarded funding to develop the working model. We expect to have the first commercially viable jackfruit plucking equipment before the next jackfruit season.”

The jackfruit that grows fuss free in almost every home in Kerala has been taken for granted, and often lies abandoned in backyards to rot away. Thanks to Joseph’s Jackfruit365 and the significance of raw jackfruit in improving health, today it’s finding its rightful place.

As for Thomas, once he understood the benefit of raw jackfruit he stopped eating rice and wheat and mostly uses raw jackfruit preparations.

“Besides losing 12 kg over a year, he is off insulin and there is a spring in his step like never before,” Joseph says.

What the doctors say:

Dr Jayachandran Thampi, Chief Consultant at Swami Parmanand Prakritik Chikitsalaya, a health and wellness centre in New Delhi, says he came across raw Jackfruit365 in 2016. “Our hospital has several programmes for detoxification

and weight reduction. I was searching for alternatives to minimise carbohydrates intake in my patients and that’s when I chanced upon this. We procured raw Jackfruit 365 and after powdering it, made a dough to prepare rotis. The rotis were

as good as wheat rotis with no distinct smell of jackfruit. People responded well to the trial.

Dr Mukundan Seshadri, the Chief of Cardio-vascular and Thoracic Surgery at Columbia Asia Referral Hospital in Yeshwanthpur, Bengaluru, says: “I first heard about James Joseph’s Jackfruit365 in 2016 and introduced it into my father-inlaw’s

diet. He is a diabetic and takes insulin shots every day. The first time he took chakka puzzhukku, he reduced his insulin dosage. He was fine. But the next day he ate chakka puzhukku along with millets cereals, he forgot to reduce the insulin dose. And that resulted in a hypoglycemic situation for him. I have talked about this product to my patients. One of them, had gone through a surgery and his wound was not healing due to his diabetic condition. Once he switched over to a diet of jackfruit curry with millets we noticed that his diabetes was better controlled and his wound also healed. Clearly, a diet of jackfruit and millets together has a good effect on Type 2 diabetes. However, we need a scientific trial to be conducted on a large scale in order to validate this. I have not been able to do this for want of funds.”

Mythily Ramachandran is a writer based in Chennai, India.

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