Said to be the largest fruit in the world, the jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is an indigenous fruit tree of South India which is popular in the Southeast Asian region.1 The jackfruit’s appearance is similar to that of the cempedak, a fruit that also belongs to the Moraceae family. The jackfruit tree has a variety of uses.

The jackfruit tree produces the world’s largest fruit often ranging from 10 to 20 kg, with the biggest specimens weighing almost 50 kg. It belongs to the Moraceae family and has a firmer flesh and larger fruit than the cempedak. The jackfruit tree can grow to a height of 20 m.3 Its shiny, deep green leaves have a slight leathery texture and measure almost 9 inches. Juvenile leaves can be distinguished by their lobes. The male and female flowers drop soon after flowering.4 The tree usually bears fruit by the age of three, and can yield up to 250 fruit annually upon maturity. Protected by a thick, pale green rind, the compound fruit has an inner layer of white pith that surrounds its large brown seeds. The seeds are contained within an envelope of golden yellow pulp that is sweet, firm and chewy,5 with a flavour that is said to be a cross between pineapple and melon.Having been cultivated for many years, it is also present in the African and American tropics.7

Usage and potential
Food source
The fruit can be eaten fresh or pickled. A popular way to serve the ripe fruit is to remove its seed, chill the fruit pulp and fill the cavity with ice-cream. The flesh may also be used in soups, as part of a fruit salad or as an ice-cream flavour.8 The jackfruit tree has a vast number of uses, besides producing fruit. The seeds of the jackfruit can also be eaten and are said to taste like chestnuts. They are a rich source of carbohydrates and are served either roasted or boiled in water. Care must be taken to ensure that the seeds are properly prepared, for they may be poisonous. A starchy flour may be made from the seeds.9 The rind is used as animal fodder, while consumption of its boiled leaves is said to increase the amount of milk that a breastfeeding mother produces.10 The unripe fruit is astringent and indigestible. Nursing mothers are cautioned from eating unripe jackfruit, regardless whether it is cooked or not.11

Jackfruit leaves also play a significant role in traditional herbal medicine. In Malaysia, a concoction of jackfruit leaf ash and coconut oil is applied to cuts and wounds in order to hasten the healing process. In addition, the root is prescribed as a curative for fever, stomach upsets and even skin afflictions. Furthermore, the sap of the tree is used to remedy snakebites.12

The latex extracted from the plant is extremely sticky and therefore also used as an adhesive. In Thailand, jackfruit seeds are also regarded as potent talismans. The reason for this superstition lies in the copper colour of the seeds. According to traditional Thai folklore, copper is a metal with mystical qualities.13 The tree’s durable timber is a valuable commodity in certain parts of Southeast Asia, where teak is limited in supply. Its yellowish tinge makes jackfruit timber very appealing,14 notably in Bali where it is used extensively by wood craftsmen. It is also favoured as a raw material for building houses, furniture and musical instruments in other parts of the region.15

Variant names
Common name: The name ‘Jack’ is believed to be a Portuguese modification of the Malayalam word chaka, which means “round”.16
Scientific name: Artocarpus heterophyllus.17
Malay name: Nangka.18


Annalisa Dass

1. Wendy Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 2000), 24. (Call no. RSING 634.6 HUT)
2. I. H. Burkill, A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula (Malaysia: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-Operatives, 1966), 255. (Call no. RCLOS 634.909595 BUR)
3. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, 255–56; Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 23; “Giant Jackfruit for Display at WTC,” Straits Times, 17 September 1980, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Betty Molesworth Allen, Malayan Fruits (Singapore: Donald Moore Press, 1967), 202, 204. (Call no. RCLOS 634.09595 ALL)
5. Jacqueline M. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 23–24. (Call no. RSING 634.60959 PIP)
6. Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 23–24.
7. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, 256.
8. Allen, Malayan Fruits, 205; Desmond Tate, Tropical Fruit (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2007), 28. (Call no. RSING 634.6 TAT)
9. Allen, Malayan Fruits, 205.
10. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, 258; Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 24.
11. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, 256.
12. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 22.
13. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 26.
14. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 22–26..
15. Burkill, Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, 256–57.
16. “Fruit Trees Planted,” New Paper, 6 November 1989, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Piper, Fruits of South-East Asia, 26; Allen, Malayan Fruits, 202–05.
17. Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore, 24.
18. Allen, Malayan Fruits, 202–05.

The information in this article is valid as at 11 August 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Artocarpus--Southeast Asia
Tropical fruit--Southeast Asia