Artocarpus heterophyllus



Artocarpus heterophyllus

Lam. 1789

pronounced: ah-toe-KAR-puss het-er-oh-FILL-uss

(Moraceae — the fig family)


common names: jakfruit, jackfruit, breadfruit

This is the world’s largest tree-borne fruit, and can weigh up to 40 kg. Artocarpus comes from two Greek words, αρτος (artos), bread and καρπος (karpos), fruit, while heterophyllus is from 'ετερος (heteros), different and φυλλον (phyllon), a leaf – ‘breadfruit with different leaves’. This is not the breadfruit transported around the Pacific by Captain William Bligh. That was Artocarpus altilis, of which I. Platt writes: “the eatable part lies between the skin and core; it is as white as snow, and of the consistence of new bread. It must be roasted before it is eaten, being first divided into three or four parts; its taste is insipid, with a slight sweetness, somewhat resembling that of the crumb of wheaten bread, mixed with Jerusalem artichoke”. It was being planted to produce a cheap food suitable for feeding slaves.

The jakfruit is native to the Indian subcontinent, and possibly to the Malay Peninsula, through it was more likely to have been introduced there by humans. It is commercially grown in southern Asia and northern Australia, and in the West Indies. It has played a significant role in India for thousands of years, in both culture and agriculture. Jakfruit trees were introduced into Australia in the mid 1800s, and old trees – most of which bear the old soft yellow-fleshed fruits – can still be found in remnant gardens. Better varieties have been developed and commercialized. Seedling Jakfruit trees will grow into large trees with invasive root systems, and are not suitable for suburban gardens.

The leaves of the tree are oblong or elliptic in form, 10 – 15 cm in length, leathery, glossy and deep green in colour. Male and female flowers are borne on separate flower-heads, the male on new wood among the leaves or above the female flowers. They are swollen, oblong, 2 – 10 cm long, and about 2 cm wide at the widest part, pale green at first, then darker. When mature the head is covered with yellow pollen that falls rapidly after flowering. The female flowers appear on short, stout twigs that emerge from the trunk or large branches, and, on old trees, from the soil-covered base. They are similar in appearance to the males (without the pollen, of course), and soon begin to swell into fruit.

Jakfruits range from round to oval in shape, having a rough, thick leathery skin with a central core. Between the skin and the core are a number of seeds, each surrounded by a fleshy aril, and the arils are the most commonly used part of the fruit. They are pale yellow to orange in colour, and their texture varies from crunchy to sloppy. Attached to the skin are fleshy strands called rags, that are usually discarded along with the skin. The taste of the fruit is sweet, rich and fragrant, tasting of bananas and pineapples when ripe. Cutting the fruit releases a latex that doesn’t dissolve in water, so cannot be washed off the hands after handling the fruit; so, if you are tempted to cut up a jakfruit, wipe the hands and implements with oil first. Immature fruit can be boiled, roasted or fried, served as a vegetable, or in a curry. It is also a useful ingredient in chutney. Ripe arils can be used for making jam, and as flavoring in milkshakes, and the seeds can be eaten if boiled, fried or roasted. It may be bought canned in syrup, or frozen, and sweet jakfruit chips are marketed in some places.

In some countries Jakfruit wood is used in the production of musical instruments. In Indonesia, hardwood from the trunk is carved out to form the barrels of drums used in the gamelan, and in the Philippines its soft wood is used for the body of the kutiyapi, a type of lute. In India it is used to make the bodies of the stringed instrument veena, and the drums mridangam and kanjira. In that country well-grained timbers from the tree are also used in furniture construction. In Kerala the timber is used to make the avani palaka, the priest’s seat used in Hindu ceremonies. In Vietnam it is used to make Buddhist statues for temples.

The heartwood is heavy and hard. It is durable under water, but cracks if it is exposed to direct sun. It is resistant to termite attack, and is used for piles, bridge platforms, and joinery.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2007, 2008
Page last updated 13th October 2018