Seriously Asian: Jackfruit

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At Chinese and Southeastern Asian markets, you may have seen these monstrous-looking fruits being sold throughout the summer and the beginning of autumn, though you can find them as early as March. Bigger and heavier than melons, the jackfruit( from the mulberry tree family) holds the distinction of being the largest tree-borne fruit on the planet. Found in abundance in warm climates in Southeastern Asian and Southern China, jackfruit can grow to be eighty pounds, though the specimens you'll find at your market will more fall within the 12 to 20 pound range.

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While its odor hardly rivals that of the noxious durian, a ripe jackfruit emits a mildly unpleasant, musty aroma. And, like the durian, the rind of the fruit displays a beautiful mosaic of conical-shaped spikes that give way to a foamy interior. The actual fruit grows around a main spine that runs the oblong length of the fruit; spiny, sticky antennae-like filaments surround the fleshy pods of fruit.

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I've seen jackfruit, with spine and rinds intact, selling for anywhere between a dollar to five or more per pound—no small investment, considering that the even the smaller ones may still weigh ten or more pounds. What's more, the jackfruit is a cumbersome fruit to peel: once you penetrate the prickly exterior, the interior filaments and the core emit a sticky, gluey substance that adheres stubbornly to whatever it touches. The filaments themselves are firmly latched onto the core and the rind; only with a knife or scissors can you extract the pods of fruit.

Even factoring in the money, time, and stickiness that come with purchasing your very own, it's worth the investment to try jackfruit. The flavor and texture are like nothing else I've tasted: the flavor falls somewhere between a pineapple and a banana, with hints of mango; the texture, depending on the ripeness of the fruit, can be mildly chewy like a soft gummy bear or as juicy as a succulent scallop.

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Fruit connoisseurs will appreciate the unique taste and mouthfeel of the jackfruit; thrifty eaters may also be interesting in trying the seeds found inside the fleshy pods. Perfectly edible, the seeds are best boiled or roasted, which brings out their subtle sweetness. Jackfruit seeds are often compared to chestnuts, though they're blander than chestnuts and actually taste more like the lotus root seed.

To cook jackfruit seeds, simply slip the seeds in a pot of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, or roast them in a 400°F oven for 20 minutes.

Finally, if you're taking the plunge and buying a whole jackfruit, remember to cover your work area with newspaper and to keep handy a sharp pairing knife with which to cut the rind and filaments. Chunks of the fruit, with the fleshy pods encased within, come off the fruit's spine easily when you detach the filaments. Vigorously rub your sticky hands in flour to remove the gluey substance. Jackfruit pods can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, or you can refrigerate uncut sections of the fruit for two weeks or longer.