J is for Jackfruit (Mít)

Jackfruit grow on short stalks right from the trunk and branches, and they are the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, bigger even than the durian. While a typical fruit might weigh anywhere from 15 to 20 kg, they can reach up to 35. Most of the ones I see in the market are almost a metre long.jackfruit growing near tu duc

Jackfruit has a few unusual attributes. All those pimply bumps on the outside and the many arils on the inside are actually the result of hundreds of female flowers growing and fusing together, so each fruit is actually many fruits. Cutting one open exposes an inedible central core and hundreds of arils nestled amongst many flattened, somewhat fibrous filaments, often called rags. These rags are unfertilized flowers. The fruits grow on short stalks right from the trunk and branches, and they are the largest known tree-borne fruit in the world, bigger even than the durian. While a typical fruit might weigh anywhere from 15 to 20 kg, they can reach up to 35. Most of the ones I see in the market are almost a metre long.Though some people say the fruit are stinky, the bad odour mostly comes from the very large or overripe ones.

jackfruit close-up

My mother-in-law slices immature jackfruit flesh and uses it to make a soup, canh mít, flavoured with lốt leaves and ruốc (shrimp paste). Sometimes she adds shrimp to the soup. I love her cooking, but this isn’t one of my favorites. Although the unripe jackfruit has a meaty texture which makes it popular for preparing vegetarian dishes at pagodas and on meatless days, I find it bland and starchy. This is a people’s dish, sometimes called a dish for the poor, unlike many of the local Huế specialties that find their roots in the imperial kitchens. Still, the popularity of jackfruit in Huế does have imperial roots; during his eleven-year reign, King Minh Mạng issued an edict ordering people to plant jackfruit trees everywhere that the land lay uncultivated.

Sometimes we buy a chunk of fresh jackfruit (never a whole one—they’re usually just too big!) and we invite family members who live in neighbouring houses over for a feast. We cut the fruit into smaller chunks to make it less unwieldy, and then we sit plucking the fleshy arils out from the surrounding stringy filaments and eating them. The seeds pop out of the sections easily. To me, the aromatic, crunchy, sometimes waxy sections taste like a banana-pineapple fruit salad. We are careful to oil the knife before cutting the fruit, because it exudes a sticky white latex that gums up everything it touches. Children even smear the latex on sticks to trap dragonflies in flight.

The multitude of arils in a single fruit makes the jackfruit perfect for sharing, and typical of Huế people, my family loves to get together for a fruit feast. (Even a single mango, cut properly, becomes a joyous impromptu gathering for several siblings and cousins.)

Although the rags, called xơ mít (jackfruit fibres) are edible too, many people don’t eat them. Some cooks prepare them kho style (stewed in fish sauce and caramel sauce) with fish during the flood season. They’re also popular in vegetarian kitchens to make dishes like xơ mít sautéed with lemon grass and chilis.

jackfruit salad -mit + bun tron

In the afternoons, the silence of our lane during the siesta hours is punctuated only by the sounds of cicadas and birds until, one by one, people open their eyes, stretch, and open their shutters and doors again. The last stragglers are awakened by the calls of itinerant sellers hawking various delicacies that are popular late-afternoon snacks.  One of the women arrives in our lane, yoke bouncing on her shoulder, with trays of assorted Huế specialties, including mít trộn, a sort of jackfruit salad with glass noodles, lettuce and herbs.

One of the many sellers of chè (sweet soupy snacks) offers a jackfruit chè laced with coconut milk, but this chè seems to be more common in the south. I don’t see it very often in Huế.

Two main varieties of jackfruit are grown in Việt Nam (as well as a few others), both bearing starchy fruits that sweeten as they grow and ripen. Mít  ướt (wet jackfruit) has a softer, sweeter flesh with a deep golden hue, while mít ráo (dry jackfruit) tends to be a little drier and crunchier, and rather pale. The huge seeds of all the varieties (except, of course, the seedless kind) have a nutty, creamy flavour and texture, but they require lengthy cooking, and they induce flatulence. A friend of mine nicknamed her son Mít, the Vietnamese name for jackfruit, because of his childhood fondness for the seeds, and the malodorous results.

Việt Nam is a major producer of jackfruit, both for local consumption and for export (fresh, frozen, canned, and made into crunchy chips). The wood is prized for its resistance to rot and splitting, and is used to make furniture and doors. Craftsmen in Huế are known for their beautiful, high-quality jackwood Buddhist statues and mõ, the wooden fish used to keep the beat while reciting sutras or during rites. In 2010,  Huế craftsmen built Việt Nam’s biggest drum for Hà Nội’s thousandth birthday. (Sadly, they used three trees, all over 500 years old—collectively older than the city of Hà Nội—and I think it would have been nicer to leave the trees growing.)

jackfruit growing from trunk

The jackfruit tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is a member of the same family that includes mulberries and figs, and grows in most parts of the tropics. They grow as tall as 30 metres, with a thick growth of shiny oblong leaves that offers a lovely cool shade on a hot day.

If you want to grow one from seed, you’ll need both space and enough patience to wait several years for the first fruit, although the trees grow fairly quickly. The seeds are only viable for a short time and must not dry out, so you have to plant them right away, preferably in their permanent location. Jackfruit trees are easy to grow, and have few demands, but they have very long and delicate taproots and do not take well to being moved. It takes about eight months from flowering to harvest time.  The trees do best in the tropics, with lots of sunshine, heat and humidity, but will tolerate a very brief and light frost.

jackfruit at the market

The giant fruit are low in calories but rich in protein, vitamin B6 and potassium. And according to an article from the Guardian, jackfruit may be a miracle crop: “Researchers say the large, smelly fruit grown could be a replacement for staple crops under threat from climate change”.

If you can read Vietnamese, you might like these two articles I referred to while checking to make sure I had my facts straight about jackfruit dishes in Huế:

Ẩm thực Huế trong vườn Huế

Cây mít trong dòng chảy văn hóa Huế

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About Chris Galvin

Chris Galvin is a Canadian writer, editor and photographer dividing her time between Canada and Viet Nam. Her essay Flood Season was a finalist for the 2012 Best of the Net prize, and Discovering Hến Rice in Central Việt Nam won third place (shared) and a Readers’ Choice Award in the 2015 I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and literary journals, including Descant, Asian Cha, PRISM International, Room, and others. She has written in Vietnamese and English for Vietnam Tourism Review/Kham Pha Du Lich Vietnam Magazine, Travellive, and Du Lich Giai Tri. Chris is currently looking for a home for her recently completed manuscript, Breakfast Under the Bodhi Tree, a book about living, eating, and tour-guiding in Viet Nam.
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24 Responses to J is for Jackfruit (Mít)

  1. Wow they are bigger than I thought!

  2. Michael says:

    Mam tom ruôc … strong one. But gives dishes really something special 🙂 I would not have imagined doing something with jackfruit and Mam tom, as you descibe your mother-in-law’s soup. Great.

    • Chris says:

      Great that you know about mắm ruốc and the way it gives something special to dishes! It’s very popular in central Viet Nam, but less so in other areas, where mắm nêm, (made with fish instead of shrimp) is much more common and preferred. Huế people use mắm ruốc for many dishes.

      • Michael says:

        Vietnam should be the next place in SEA for me to visit… I’m curious about it a long time already. Must make that happen one day!

        • Chris says:

          How many SE Asian countries have you visited?

        • Michael says:

          Not many, so far Thailand severyl times, Singapore shortly, Laos just crossing the border. But I make plans to come back and see more 😉 ! Also been to Hongkong, which is not SEA, but influenced me as well. And you see a strong connection(addiction?) on michasfoodblog.com to Japanese food and style, but that’s for other reasons ^^

  3. Eric Syrdal says:

    Always great to read your blog, Chris. I never knew these guys existed! 🙂

    • Chris says:

      Thanks, Eric! Take a look next time you’re at an Asian market…you just might spot some! Just don’t mistake a spiky durian for a jackfruit. 🙂

  4. Rose Hunter says:

    I’ve had breadfruit here. Are they kind of the same thing? Look similar…. I used to see these at certain roadside stalls in Mexico but never ate one there.

    • Chris says:

      They are in the same genus (Artocarpus) as breadfruit, but breadfruit are much starchier (though they can become sweet if left to ripen). Breadfruits are most commonly used unripe and cooked. They are smaller and grow off the ends of branches, not directly off the trunk. And then there’s breadnut, also in the same family, and durian, in a different family but somewhat similar in appearance if you aren’t familiar with them. Mind boggling.

  5. I must admit I’ve never heard of jackfruit, and I can’t make up my mind whether it’s a fruit I’d like to try or not. Starchy, gives flatulence doesn’t sound so nice but the nutty, creamy flavour sound attractive. The tree looks as if it has wonderful red wood. Perhaps I’d appreciate the tree more than the fruit. So great to find out about what is grown and eaten in other countries.

    • Chris says:

      The seeds cause flatulence. The flesh, not so much. When ripe, they are much less starchy; they become crunchy and almost squeak in the teeth. The ripe fruit has a high water content, so if you eat it in moderation, it’s refreshing. It’s also rather filling. The wood is a beautiful colour ranging from the red you seen in the photo to a blondish brown. The shiny leaves are lovely.

  6. I often learn something new when I visit here. A fruit full of flowers. Awesome! 🙂

  7. Anh Duong says:

    We say mít ráo, but not mít khô, Chris. Interesting piece.

  8. Reblogged this on Conversations I Wish I Had and commented:
    Yet another great blog entry by Chris Galvin 🙂

  9. julespaige says:

    This was fascinating reading. I think I have seen this fruit on some of the challenge cooking shows. Some of the chefs…are stumped not having ever seen or eaten on.

    Too bad about all those trees. That reminds me of the Red Woods or sequoia. But they are protected now. I watch a show where (before the protection was in effect) someone had taken a tree and actually made a traveling motor home from the single hollowed out trunk.

  10. subrubhat says:

    Thanks for the excellent article with beautiful photos. I grew up in India in the midst of Jackfruit trees and love jackfruit – tender or ripe!!

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