The ‘meat’, popular for its unique taste and health benefits, has been popular for a while in the vegan community, and is now getting wider acceptance even from die-hard meat eaters, even as small-time entrepreneurs and restaurants are seeing orders for this unique dish pick up.
“Jackfruit meat has the perfect texture and rich fibre, which can be a substitute for meat. Fortunately, it doesn’t have any odour like most meats, if harvested at the right stage and is pretreated,” said senior ICAR scientist M J Gupta.
In unripe form, when it is not pulpy or sweet, it is versatile as an ingredient for a host of preparations. “When jackfruit is raw, it has no taste, but is capable of absorbing any masala. Once cooked, it attains the texture of meat, like chicken,” said Liza Pinheiro, who has a degree in agriculture.
In the western world, many swear that the taste of jackfruit is similar to pulled pork, especially after being cooked. But here in Goa, many insist that jackfruit biryani tastes more like its mutton counterpart.
“It tastes like mutton, and many are developing a taste for it. A few people know about this biryani, and I get some orders for a variety of dishes,” said Damini Digvekar, a Valpoi-based homemaker who churns out a variety of jackfruit dishes.
Jackfruit biryani is prepared like any other biryani dish. “The semi-mature jackfruit has to be steamed or boiled, cut into meat-size pieces and fried to a light brown colour. The masala is added before mixing it with rice,” Gupta said.
The jackfruit, like the coconut tree, is a ‘kalpa vriksha’, as every part of it can be turned into a food product, besides being good cattle feed. As Goa’s king of fruits — the mango — faded from the market as the monsoon set in, the humble jackfruit got elevated to a higher status in the hierarchy of the fruit market.
It hasn’t always been like this. In the past, jackfruits were often seen rotting on trees in villages. But now, its visibility is increasing, perhaps due to its high medicinal value, and importance as a fresh food without chemicals.
And with its increasing popularity comes the inevitable price hike. This season, the first produce fetched prices ranging from Rs 600-700 a piece. “This year, I bought 20 jackfruit carpels (gore) for Rs 100, for my outstation relatives. This means the price is up ten times from Rs 10 for 20 medium-sized pieces in 2011, when we started promoting it at the Konkan fruit fest, and Rs 20 for 20 pieces at another fest in 2015,” said Miguel Braganza, a horticulturist.
In a few southern states, jackfruit processing is a multi-crore industry, with excellent spinoffs for employment and food products. To promote its utilisation locally, the Centre has notified jackfruit as a crop for North Goa under one district, one product (ODOP). The scheme is also part of the PM formalization of micro fund processing enterprises (PMFME) programme.
Two departments — industries, trade and commerce, and agriculture — are preparing a roadmap to achieve targets set by food processing industries.
The PMFME scheme is open to individual firms, self-help groups (SHG), farmer-producer organisations and producer cooperatives. Individuals can avail a 35% subsidy with a ceiling of Rs 10 lakh, while groups can get a capital subsidy with a 35% grant.
ICAR, Old Goa – as the state level technical institute for PMFME offering expertise and training — and the agriculture department, have strived to train and encourage entrepreneurship in value addition, given its vast scope locally.
The Goa state biodiversity board set up a pilot project two years ago — a multi-fruit processing unit at Pale-Kotambi — to procure jackfruit and other produce for value addition. After its success, the same model will be replicated at Curchorem. A few entrepreneurs have started value-addition on a small scale. A private exporter has tied up with a Canacona-based entrepreneur to locate and procure raw jackfruit for partial processing and packaging for export to Europe as both fresh and frozen vegetable, to explore the market abroad.
However, some argue that these agencies are working in a piecemeal fashion. “We don’t have a count of jackfruit trees, or their location. New jackfruit trees are planted, but fruit-bearing ones are orphaned and unharvested. If mapping was done, it would help the procurement process and setting up of community cold storages,” an official said.
Field-based research and surveys on tree density are vital for planning and hand-holding of farmers. “The harvesting should be done before the rains arrive. The raw stock can be frozen for use round the year, to make bhaji or other dishes,” a source said.
The state departments are faced with a problem of lack of interest among entrepreneurs. “The difficulty in Goa is to find an entrepreneur, as everyone wants to make a quick buck. One only has to check out what Artocarpus Foods Pvt Ltd (a Kannur-based jackfruit processing industry) has achieved for inspiration,” said Braganza.
But some are hopeful that trailblazers can pave a way for others. “If an entrepreneur comes up with an idea of a jackfruit café or eatery, serving burgers, xacuti, cutlets and sweet dishes, I am sure others will follow suit,” Gupta said.