Fruit as meat?

Boul­der en­tre­pre­neur’s foray into jackfruit prov­ing fruit­ful

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Shay Castle

Chances are, you don’t know jackfruit. The gi­ant, green fruit grows pri­mar­ily in trop­i­cal re­gions of Asia, so it’s not a com­mon sight in Colorado.

But the na­tion’s big­gest ped­dler of the pro­duce hap­pens to be a Boul­der busi­ness: The Jackfruit Com­pany, founded by Bos­ton trans­plant An­nie Ryu.

We chat­ted via email with Ryu — busy vis­it­ing farm­ers in ru­ral In­dia — to learn more about the gi­ant phe­nom­e­non:

Q: First, I think it might be help­ful to tell our read­ers: What is a jackfruit?

A: Jackfruit is an ex­tremely high-yield crop which pro­duces the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. A

sin­gle jackfruit can grow to be 100 pounds.

Be­fore it ripens and sug­ars de­velop — we call this young jackfruit — it has a mild taste and nat­u­rally meaty tex­ture. When cooked, it re­sem­bles pulled pork.

Once jackfruit ripens, it be­comes in­cred­i­bly sweet and pun­gent. The fla­vor of ripe jackfruit is said to be the in­spi­ra­tion for Juicy Fruit gum.

Jackfruit trees grow in trop­i­cal lo­ca­tions around the world, but are na­tive to south­ern In­dia where we source the jackfruit for our prod­ucts. Jackfruit trees in this re­gion are in­cred­i­bly low main­te­nance, which means our farm­ers don’t wa­ter them or use any soil amend­ments.

Be­cause jackfruit is so prolific, much of the fruit ac­tu­ally goes to waste. A sin­gle tree can yield 2.5 to 3 tons of fruit per year.

Q: How did you first come across jackfruit and start cook­ing with it?

A: The sum­mer af­ter my sopho­more year at Har­vard, I trav­eled to south­ern In­dia with my brother to im­ple­ment a ma­ter­nal and child health­care pro­gram we had de­vel­oped.

I saw a pile of jackfruit on the side of the road for the first time and thought they were enor­mous green por­cu­pines. It was the most de­li­cious fruit I’d ever tasted. I took a 10hour overnight bus to at­tend a jackfruit fes­ti­val in Dhar­mas­thala dur­ing my first week­end in In­dia.

While I was stay­ing with a farm­ing fam­ily in ru­ral south­ern In­dia, the fam­ily pre­pared a home recipe — jackfruit burg­ers — and I learned that jackfruit was of­ten used as a meat al­ter­na­tive in tra­di­tional cook­ing and meal prepa­ra­tion.

Q: Why did you de­cide to start a jackfruit com­pany?

A: I learned that 70 per­cent of all jackfruit in In­dia goes to waste for lack of com­mer­cial sup­ply chains. I wanted to cre­ate a path­way to turn jackfruit into in­come for farm­ing fam­i­lies, while pos­i­tively im­pact­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and hu­man health.

When I first started the com­pany, I was fo­cused on bring­ing dried, ripe jackfruit to mar­ket. Then I re­al­ized the big­ger op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a hearty, whole food meat al­ter­na­tive from young jackfruit to sat­isfy the needs of veg­e­tar­i­ans, ve­g­ans and flex­i­tar­i­ans.

Q: What’s your dis­tri­bu­tion look like?

A: Lo­cally you can find our prod­ucts at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Lucky’s and Al­falfa’s. Na­tion­ally, you can find our prod­ucts at Weg­mans, Ra­ley’s, Smith’s, Shop Rite, Fred Meyer, Ralph’s, di­vi­sions of Al­bert­son’s-Safe­way and Kroger, and many in­de­pen­dent nat­u­ral food stores.

Q: What’s the growth of the busi­ness been like?

A: We orig­i­nally launched into 180 stores across six re­gions with Whole Foods. We’ve since grown over ten­fold, with place­ment in about 2,000 stores na­tion­ally as of Novem­ber.

We’re also see­ing great suc­cess on the food ser­vice side of the busi­ness, as restau­rants and uni­ver­si­ties look for a healthy meat al­ter­na­tive to pro­vide to their guests.

An­nie Ryu, founder of Boul­der-based The Jackfruit Com­pany, stands by a jackfruit tree in ru­ral In­dia. Courtesy An­nie Ryu

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