Many years ago, when I just moved to Sri Lanka, I decided that jackfruit was going to be my favorite fruit. I say “decided” because I distinctly remember the moment when I made that decision. I was at a farmer’s market in Colombo, having my lunch of rice and curry prepared by a local lady. I pointed at one of the curries that looked unfamiliar and asked what it was. “Jackfruit seeds curry,” she replied. “As in… just seeds? No jackfruit flesh whatsoever? You mean like… a curry that consist entirely of seeds?” I asked her the same question in about five different ways and each time she replied with “yes”.
My mind was blown. By that time I already knew that jackfruit can be a lot of different things to different people: a fruit, a vegetable, a rice substitute, a meat substitute. And now you are telling me even its seeds can be cooked on their own?
Imagine you meet a person who says that he has a PhD in applied mathematics, but he works as a brain surgeon, and he also speaks five languages, and on top of all that he is a published poet. That’s how I feel about jackfruit. How can one food be so many things at once?
Heatlh Benefits of Jackfruit
Apart from being so versatile, jackfruit has a whole bunch of health benefits. It is rich in potassium, calcium, and iron that make it nutritious.
Jackfruit also has high level of dietary fiber and lower calorie count than rice and bread which means it’ll satisfy hunger faster, and you will feel full longer, all the while consuming less calories than if you were eating rice or bread. Dietary fiber also aids digestion and therefore improves metabolism.
Jackfruit seeds contain a good amount of protein which makes them perfect for vegan and vegetarian diets.
According to the numerous articles on the web, jackfruit can pretty much singlehandedly cure at least a dozen diseases: from improving vision to fighting cancer to curing insomnia. Just google “jackfruit benefits” and prepare to be amazed. Seriously, though, eating jackfruit can help maintain blood pressure due to its high potassium level, strengthen bones due to its calcium content, and help reduce the risk of heart disease thanks to vitamin B6.
Is Jackfruit the New Superfood?
Superfood is a funny phenomenon. Here you are, born and raised in Sri Lanka, cooking with coconut oil and adding coconut milk to curries your whole life just because it’s been done this way for hundreds of years. Also, because coconuts are available and cheap, but surely not because they are trendy. Next thing you know coconut oil is this magic ingredient everyone is craving, and people are ready to pay big bucks for it. First it happened to coconut oil, then to coconut milk, then to turmeric, all of which are very common in Sri Lanka. Jackfruit seems to be the next big thing. But I can understand why.
For one thing, jackfruit is huge. It is the biggest tree borne fruit. Even a small jackfruit weighs 10-15 lb (5-7 kg) on average, and can go up to 50-60 lb. There are even recorded specimens of 100 lb and more. What it means is that one jackfruit can feed a lot of people.
According to the article in the Guardian:
“The World Bank and United Nations warned recently that rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall had already reduced yields of wheat and corn, and could lead to food wars within the decade. Now researchers say jackfruit could help provide the solution.”
In the same article, Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank, which works on sustainable agriculture, is quoted:
“It is easy to grow. It survives pests and diseases and high temperatures. It is drought-resistant. It achieves what farmers need in food production when facing a lot of challenges under climate change.”
In Sri Lanka, with its abundance of jackfruit, it is considered to be a poor man’s food. Those who can’t afford to buy rice, eat jackfruit instead. But is it really a bad thing? The ability of one fruit to be not only incredibly versatile, but also to feed a whole family. To my mind, it’s only one more reason to love it.
Jackfruit in Sri Lanka
You know how Eskimo have about fifty different words to describe snow? It’s kinda like that with jackfruit in Sri Lanka. On different stages of its life, jackfruit has different names. Here are the main three: polos (young jackfruit, baby jackfruit), kos (ripe jackfruit), waraka (overripe jackfruit). The reason you need to know this is because on different stages the taste of jackfruit varies. It’s not like eating underripe banana and ripe banana. It’s more like eating a banana and an apple. The tastes are so completely unalike, that if you tried polos curry and kos curry for the first time, you would never think they are made from the same fruit. Another thing to note, at different stages jackfruit is cooked differently (or not cooked at all).
Polos, Young Jackfruit
At its first stage, jackfruit is called “polos” in Sri Lanka. You can also hear the names “young jackfruit” or “baby-jackfruit”. At this stage, the bulbs with seeds are not yet formed and the whole fruit is cut into pieces for cooking.
In Western countries, polos is referred to as “green jackfruit”. Canned green jackfruit is easy to find in the isles of Asian food in supermarkets, in Indian grocery stores, or online. Which is why polos curry is the easiest to make when you live outside of South East Asia (check out my mother-in-law’s recipe for polos curry below).
Polos curry is the most popular way of preparing young jackfruit in Sri Lanka. Once cooked, the pieces resemble pulled pork in texture. The curry is full of spices and is usually on the hot side.
Because of its meat-like consistency, many vegetarian recipes include polos as a substitute for pork, for example, in a pulled jackfruit burger or a sandwich. But although the texture is similar, polos doesn’t have the same amount of protein as meat, so you should substitute it wisely.
Kos, Mature Jackfruit
At its second stage, jackfruit is called kos. This is when jackfruit is mature and fully grown in size. The bulbs with seeds inside are fully developed. The fruits are so big they are usually cut and sold in pieces.
Kos in Sri Lanka is used to make a curry called kiri kos maluwa. Kiri kos is very different from polos curry both in texture and taste. It is very creamy, tangy, and starchy. Chili is usually not added to the mixture, so the curry has a very mild and milky taste.
Unlike polos, kos is pretty much impossible to find outside of South East Asia. Your best bet is to travel to Sri Lanka and try it here (totally worth it, I think!)
Waraka, Ripe Jackfruit
The last stage of jackfruit is when it becomes ripe. At this point you don’t need to cook it. Just cut waraka up, extract the yellow bulbs, remove the seeds, and stuff your face with sweet fleshy petals.
Canned waraka, just like canned green jackfruit, can be found abroad. If you see tins with the name “jackfruit in syrup” in supermarkets, that’s waraka.
Not only the flesh of jackfruit is edible, but its seeds are too. Polos doesn’t have fully formed seeds as it is too young, but kos and waraka have large seeds that can be extracted and boiled in pressure cooker. Afterwards, they are cooked into a curry called kos atta maluwa.
Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry (Polos) Recipe
Of all possible ways to cook jackfruit, I want to start with Sri Lankan polos curry. Why? Because it’s delicious, you can find ingredients pretty much anywhere in the world (canned green jackfruit is fairly common), and that’s what was for lunch at home today.
In Sri Lanka, polos curry is served with rice and several other curry varieties. You can do that or you can just make the curry and use it however you like: stuff a sandwich with it, serve over grains, or eat it on its own (spicy!).
Below is my mother-in-law’s recipe for polos curry. It explains how to make traditional Sri Lankan polos curry with fresh young jackfruit and fresh coconut milk. If you don’t have access to fresh ingredients, substitute them for canned jackfruit and canned coconut milk. I am going to try out the recipe with canned ingredients as soon as I get my hands on them. Turns out it’s really hard to find canned jackfruit in Sri Lanka where fresh one is in abundance.
Tips for working with fresh polos and fresh coconut milk:
- When cutting fresh jackfruit, be prepared that it’s a messy affair. There’s white sticky sap inside that will stick to your hands, the knife, and the cutting board. Wipe it off with any kind of cooking oil.
- Cutting through the spiky exterior is a little difficult and requires some strength on your part.
- Leave peeled and cut up pieces of jackfruit in water to avoid discoloring.
- I have described the process of breaking a coconut in half and extracting coconut milk in this post. In Sri Lanka, extracted milk is separated into three categories: first, second, and third; first milk being the creamiest and third milk being the least fatty, almost transparent one. You’ll need first and second coconut milk for this recipe.
Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry (Polos Curry)
Traditional Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry prepared using polos (young jackfruit) and cooked in coconut milk.
- 1/2 fresh coconut
- 1 fresh young jackfruit (polos)
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 Sprig of curry leaves
- 1 tomato
- 5 small red onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 buds cardamom
- 2 buds clove
- A small piece of cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp roasted curry powder
- 1.5 tbsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
Cut young jackfruit (polos) into two. You will see white sticky sap inside it. To remove it, dip a knife into oil and scrape the sap off the surface of jackfruit.
Cut of the spiky exterior from jackfruit halves.
Slice every half of jackfruit into 16 sections. Cut out the core of each section. Then cut every slice into 3-4 cubes. It’s very similar to how you would cut an apple into cubes.
Place all the jackfruit cubes into a bowl with cold water to avoid discoloration.
Cut fresh curry leaves into pieces. Dice fresh tomatoes. Slice small red onions. Slice garlic and mash it using a mortar and pestle.
Heat up coconut oil in a heavy bottom pan (or clay pot if you have one). Add curry leaves, onions, and garlic to the pan. Let them fry in oil for about 30 seconds to give out the aroma.
Add mustard seeds, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fenugreek seeds. Fry another 30 seconds.
Add roasted curry powder, chili powder, turmeric, black pepper, salt. Mix well
Add 1 cup of first coconut milk and 2 cups of second milk to the spices mixture. Let it simmer for a few minutes.
Drain water from jackfruit and place the cubes into the pan with coconut milk.
Cover the pan with a lid and let it simmer for an hour. The liquid must boil down and thicken when the curry is ready. Poke jackfruit with a knife or a fork for readiness. The flesh should be soft and separate into threads like pulled pork.
Serve with steamed rice and any other curries.
Have you tried fresh jackfruit? What’s your favorite way of cooking it?
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