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Jackfruit Facts, Cacao Trees, and a Replacement for Cocoa

Linda Crampton is a writer and experienced science teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys writing about science and nature.

A Useful and Potentially Important Plant

The jackfruit tree is a tropical plant in the same family as figs, mulberries, and breadfruit. The tree's fruit is notable for its huge size and its many culinary uses. Researchers have discovered that the roasted seeds have an aroma and taste resembling that of cocoa. This discovery could be very important for chocolate lovers. The cocoa that gives chocolate its flavour comes from the seeds of cacao trees. The population of these trees is in trouble due to a variety of factors. Jackfruit seed powder might be at least a partial replacement for cocoa.

The name "jackfruit" is thought have arisen from the Portuguese name for the fruit, which is jaca. This word is in turn thought to have come from the word chakka, the name of the fruit in the Malayalam language of Kerala. Kerala is a state in India. In March 2018, the jackfruit was declared the official fruit of the state.

Interesting Features of Jackfruit Trees

The jackfruit tree has the scientific name Artocarpus heterophyllus. It belongs to the Moraceae family and is evergreen. The plant is endemic to India but is grown as a cultivated plant in many tropical areas. It may reach a height of seventy feet and occasionally reaches ninety feet, but it's generally a little shorter. The leaves are oval or shaped like an ellipse and have a glossy surface.

The tiny flowers of the plant are borne in clusters. The fruit is an aggregate structure made by multiple flowers. Hundreds or even thousands of flowers may contribute to an individual fruit. Each of its seeds is surrounded by a fleshy structure called an aril. The rind is covered by knobs.

The plant is classified as cauliflorous because it bears fruits on its trunk as well as its main branches. The fruits are attached to the tree by a short stem. They are green or yellow when ripe and can reach a huge size. The jackfruit tree produces the largest fruit of any tree in the world. According to various reports, the maximum weight of a mature fruit ranges from 70 pounds to as much as 120 pounds.

An aril is an extra seed covering that frequently develops from the stalk of the seed. It's often fleshy and brightly coloured.

Culinary Uses of the Plant

Before it's opened, the ripe fruit has an unpleasant aroma. It's often said to smell like decaying onions. On the other hand, the ripe flesh or pulp inside the rind has a pleasant scent that resembles that of a pineapple. It tastes sweet and has a banana-like flavour. The flesh is used to make desserts such as custard, ice cream, purée for filling pastry, and cakes. It's also added to shaved ice to make a dessert. It's sometimes included in dishes containing rice or is fried to make a snack.

The unripe flesh is also eaten and has a meaty texture, though it has a fairly neutral taste. It’s mixed with meat in various dishes, including curries, or even used instead of meat. According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), one cup of sliced jackfruit contains 2.4 grams protein. The fruit has a much lower protein content than meat or even beans or lentils, but its texture makes it appealing for vegan dishes. The taste is improved as the fruit absorbs spices and sauces.

A vegan version of "pulled pork" made from jackfruit seems to be popular in North America and the UK at the moment. I have seen jackfruit sandwiches advertised where I live in Canada, but they have been quite expensive. The seeds of the plant are sometimes mixed with lentils, vegetables, and spices, including turmeric, to make a curry.

Jackfruit seeds are often boiled, roasted, or baked before being eaten. In some countries, they are considered unimportant and are discarded. They might be a valuable resource in the future.

Facts About Cacao Trees

The cacao tree has the scientific name Theobroma cacao and belongs to the family Malvaceae. It's endemic to Mexico, Central America, and South America. The tree is cultivated in several tropical countries in other parts of the world. It's a smaller plant than the jackfruit and reaches a maximum height of around twenty-five feet. It's sometimes described as "spindly". Cacao trees are often planted under taller trees of the rainforest and are evergreen.

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The leaves of the cacao plant are dark green, glossy, and oval or elliptical in shape. The flowers are small and pale yellow to pink in colour. They are borne in clusters. The flowers are pollinated by midges (small flies of various species). According to Kew Science, only around 5% of the flowers receive enough pollen to produce fruit.

The tree is completely cauliferous. All of the flowers and fruits are attached to the trunk. The fruit is red or brown in colour when ripe and is technically a berry, though it's referred to as a cocoa pod. It contains thirty to forty seeds, which have a lavender to purple colour. When the seeds are fermented, they develop a reddish-brown colour and are known as cocoa beans.

Cacao Trees and Cocoa in Trouble

The cacao tree population is decreasing, which is bad news for chocolate lovers. The reason for the decrease seems to be multifactorial. The plant is being damaged by pests, fungi, and viruses. In addition, it's susceptible to climate change.

A major culprit in the tree's problem is a virus that is transmitted by insects known as mealybugs. The virus is called cacao (or cocoa) swollen-shoot virus, or CSSV. Mealybugs are small creatures belonging to a group known as scale insects. They are often parasites of plants. The insects feed on the sap of the cacao trees. Sap is a watery liquid containing sugars and is found in the phloem vessels that transport food made by photosynthesis. CSSV is most common in West Africa and also occurs in Sri Lanka.

Several strains of the CSSV virus exist. The ones that cause the most serious effects can kill a cocoa tree in two to three years. Symptoms vary but often include:

  • reddening of the veins of young leaves, which disappears later
  • the appearance of yellow lines along the main veins of mature leaves
  • yellow flecking and mottling of leaves
  • swelling of stems and roots
  • unusual pods with a spherical shape
Mealybugs (unidentified species) on a flower stem

Mealybugs (unidentified species) on a flower stem

Preventing the Spread of the Viral Disease

At the moment, once a tree is infected by the CSSV virus, the infection can't be cured. Management of the disease in a population is therefore very important. Protection techniques include:

  • removal of diseased trees
  • sanitization of potentially contaminated equipment, hands, footwear, and clothing
  • the use of rubber boots that can be easily cleaned
  • avoiding deliberate transfer of plant material from one farm to another
  • breeding of cacao tree varieties that are more resistant or completely tolerant to the virus

Farmers are being asked to avoid transferring plant material from one farm to another even when the plant looks healthy. Symptoms of the disease may not appear for some time. Future techniques to protect the plants may include genetic manipulation to create resistance.

The plant pathologist in the video above says that the CSSV virus is actually a complex of related viruses. She also says that some cacao tree farmers are switching to other crops due to the problems with the trees.

Concerns About the Use of Pesticides

Pesticides are used in the cocoa industry, but not as much as might be expected. Safety issues for farmers are a serious concern. Cacao trees are generally grown on family farms instead of in large plantations. Millions of these farms exist in order to support the world's demand for chocolate.

Providing safety training for all of the cacao tree farmers and teaching all of them about the most effective way to use a pesticide is difficult. In some cases, the farmers are illiterate due to lack of education caused by poverty. They are therefore unable to decipher written instructions about pesticide use. The cocoa industry involves social problems as well as business ones.

Jackfruit Seeds as a Replacement for Cocoa

Some people feel that jackfruits are underutilized and are investigating new uses for them. In areas where the fruits are abundant, many are ignored or discarded. They could be an untapped resource both where they are currently grown and in other countries.

Jackfruit seeds contain some of the chemicals that give cocoa beans their aroma, including 3-methylbutanal, 2,3-diethyl-5-methylpyrazine, and 2-phenylethyl acetate. In 2017, a team of scientists from Brazil and the UK published the results of an interesting experiment. They found that a long fermentation (twelve days versus five to eight for cacao seeds) followed by roasting at a moderate temperature creates an aroma closest to chocolate in the seeds.

Consumers will probably want a chocolate flavour as well as a chocolate aroma in a cocoa substitute. A 2018 report from Brazilian scientists says that jackfruit seed powder can replace 50% to 75% of the cocoa in a cappuccino without changing the aroma or the flavour of the drink. The research into the cocoa substitute seems to be in its infancy but may have interesting possibilities.

A cappuccino is a mixture of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. It's quite similar to a latte but has less milk and more foam. Cappuccinos often have chocolate powder on their surface.

Preparing for the Future

Hopefully, conditions will improve for the world's cacao trees. The use of jackfruit seeds might be very useful while the cacao population is recovering or in case the use of cacao trees for seed production becomes an unsustainable practice. It will be interesting to see whether the taste of jackfruit seed powder is acceptable for consumers when used more extensively than in a topping for a cappuccino.

Chocolate is a delicious treat, and cocoa is believed to have some health benefits. It's unknown whether jackfruit seeds have the same benefits for health. It would be a shame to completely lose the cocoa bean crop and any advantages that it may offer. The effort to protect and save cacao trees is important.


Questions & Answers

Question: What products can we get from Jackfruit apart from cappuccino?

Answer: The fruit is eaten in various forms. As I mentioned in the article, it’s sometimes used as a type of vegan “meat”, though it doesn’t contain as much protein as real meat. Jackfruit wood is used to make furniture, certain parts of buildings, and drums and string instruments. It's also used to make statues and to produce a dye.

© 2018 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 10, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your experience with the jackfruit pulled "pork", Denise. I hope a solution to the cocoa problem is found soon, too.

Blessings to you as well.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on March 10, 2020:

Jackfruit was brand new to me 2 years ago when I decided to go vegan. I had a faux pulled pork sandwich with jackfruit and it was delicious. Too bad it isn't used more often by more people. I hope they find solutions to the cocoa crisis soon. I've had mealy bugs attack my houseplants before. They are hard to deal with!



Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 02, 2020:

I love chocolate, too. I hope cocoa trees don't disappear. I've seen jackfruit used as pulled pork where I live, but all the products that I've seen have been expensive. I wish they were more affordable.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 02, 2020:

I have never eaten jackfruit. We do see it in Asian markets here, but it is so large, and not knowing what it tastes like, I have never been tempted to try it. It is interesting that the roasting of its seeds might be a substitute for cocoa beans if the cocoa trees are decimated. I hope that does not occur. We love a good dark chocolate treat on occasion.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 26, 2019:

I appreciate your comment, Sharon. Thanks for sharing your experience with jackfruit. I found a "pulled pork" product made from the fruit for sale recently. I would have loved to have tasted it, but it was expensive

Jackfruit seeds need to be fermented and roasted before they taste like chocolate. The treatment is said to change the taste substantially. It would be interesting to see what the treated seeds taste like.

Sharon Lopez from Philippines on October 26, 2019:

We both have these trees in our country. Jackfruit is common in our place and we usually cook young jackfruit with coconut milk and seasonings. We eat this with rice. We also love eating the ripe fruit. I can also see a few cacao trees in our place but I don't see a company making chocolates in our place.

It's interesting to know that the seed can be a substitute for cocoa. I am not sure because I already tasted a cooked seed of jackfruit and I can't associate it in any way with cacao seed.

Thank you for sharing this lovely and interesting information.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 19, 2019:

Thank you for sharing the interesting information, Anusha.

Anusha Nimrod on February 19, 2019:

Jackfruit is very common in our country. Now they have different varieties of jack trees; even some short modified ones. Here they are used as dishes with rice; cooked or boiled. Sometimes when ripen, it is used as a fruit which is rather slippery. This is the first time I ever heard that the powder of its seed can replace cocoa powder. Aril of jackfruit is also used as a fried dish here.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 16, 2018:

Hi, Dianna. I appreciate your visit and your comment very much.

Dianna Mendez on November 16, 2018:

The beans are different from what I imagined. Fascinating. Another wonderful educational experience for me.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 12, 2018:

Hi, Devika. Thanks for the visit. I think jackfruit is an interesting fruit as well as a unique one.

Devika Primic on November 12, 2018:

Jackfruit is a unique fruit and I have not yet tried it.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 05, 2018:

Thanks for sharing the information, Thelma. It's interesting to hear about people who have both jackfruit and cacao trees in their yard.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on November 05, 2018:

I love jackfruit, green one for making jackfruit with coconut milk and the ripe one for just eating or making a jam. I have jackfruit and cacao trees in my yard. Thanks for some of the informations I got from your hub.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 01, 2018:

Hi, Bede. Thanks for the comment. I have heard of a few injuries from falling jackfruit as well as from large fruits falling from other tree species. It seems like a good idea to avoid sitting or standing right under the fruit.

Bede from Minnesota on November 01, 2018:

Thanks Linda for another interesting article. I had never heard of jackfruit but I’m amazed at the gargantuan size and the versatility. I wonder if many injuries occur from the falling fruit? I’m eager to try it some day along with a cup of the “cocoa.”

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 01, 2018:

Thanks for the visit, Nell. The fact that part of the fruit smells bad and the rest lovely is an interesting feature.

Nell Rose from England on November 01, 2018:

Yes it definitely looks like banana! I have never tried it, but I do remember reading before that it smells funny. Interesting and I learned something new, thanks.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 31, 2018:

Hi, Liz. I think you're right about the price. It would be sad if chocolate became less common and increased in price as well. I hope a good substitute is found for cacao tree growers and chocolate lovers if a replacement tree is needed.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 31, 2018:

I was interested to hear about the decline in cacao trees. Chocolate is very popular in the UK. I once sent to Cadburys World, where an exhibition charted the history of Cadburys chocolate company in the UK starting with the cacao tree. If cacao trees are declining, chocolate prices will surely increase unless jackfruit can be used instead.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 31, 2018:

I appreciate your comment, Manatita. I hope both trees are successful in nature and also help us.

manatita44 from london on October 31, 2018:

Yes. It is good to protect the cocoa as we call it for it has an abundance of wealth. Again, some exciting news about the jackfruit and the potential for furthur use

Hari om!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 31, 2018:

Thanks for the comment and for sharing the information, Pamela. It's interesting to hear about people growing a cacao tree near their home.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 31, 2018:

The use of Jackfruit seeds to replace cacao is new to me. I remember visiting my son when he lived in the Dominican Republic, and they had a cacao tree in their back yard. That is my one and only experience with either of the trees you wrote about, and I always learn something new in your articles. Very interesting article.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Thank you, Kenna. That's a big help for my search. I might over overlooked the frozen food section.

Kenna McHugh from Northern California on October 30, 2018:

Linda, The jackfruit as a meat substitute was in the refrigerator section of the natural/organic grocery store.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Hi, Kenna. I haven't tried jackfruit as a meat substitute yet. I bought the can of ripe jackfruit that I tried at an organic grocery store, but the store has since gone out of business. There are some other places in my area where I should be able to find the fruit, though.

Kenna McHugh from Northern California on October 30, 2018:

I've seen Jackfruit products at the local natural/organic grocery store. Some of the products are sold as meat substitutes. I am on the fence about that.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

"Chocopocalypse" is a very interesting term for the situation! I hope it's not as bad it sounds. I hope you have an enjoyable day tomorrow, too, Heidi.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on October 30, 2018:

I have heard about the coming "Chocopocalypse." For me, I'm not that picky if it's true chocolate or something that tastes like it. Luckily, I'm not as choco-crazy as some people. But I'm glad there's some alternative.

Thanks for sharing your vast bio-knowledge, as always! Happy Halloween!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Hi, Dora. Yes, I think the vegan pulled pork should be interesting, too. It would be interesting to taste it. I hope I eventually do.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 30, 2018:

A vegan version of pulled pork is bound to be interesting. Hoping that conservation efforts for the cocoa trees would be successful. Thanks for the interesting information.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Thanks for commenting, Eman. I hope the researchers find solutions, too. The world certainly loves chocolate!

Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on October 30, 2018:

Thanks for this Interesting article. Cocoa is the most common and preferred to many, especially children. I hope the researchers will find solutions to save the cocoa trees.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Hi, Rachel. I've tasted canned jackfruit, but not the seeds. I don't think the specially prepared seeds that taste like chocolate are available to the public yet. The powder made from the seeds has been tasted by volunteers in experiments, though. I'm looking forward to trying it myself.

Blessings to you, too.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on October 30, 2018:

Hi Linda, I sure hope they find a cure for the cacao trees. I hate to think of living in a world without chocolate even though there is a substitute. Have you ever tasted it? Thanks for sharing this information.

Blessings to you.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Thank you for sharing your lovely memories, Liza. I would love to have my own jackfruit and cacao trees!

Liza from USA on October 30, 2018:

Hi Linda,

Omg, your awesome article reminisces my childhood. When I was a kid I used to collect cocoa from the tree. We sold the seeds to the manufacturer so they can make cocoa powder and chocolate. My dad also planted the jackfruit tree. We live in a tropical country climate (Malaysia) I had such a fun time plucking the fruits and eating them.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Thank you for the comment, Penny. I'd like to try the "pulled pork", too, since I wouldn't eat the real version.

Penny Leigh Sebring from Fort Collins on October 30, 2018:

That is absolutely fascinating! I am now eager to try jackfruit and would love to create a "pulled pork" dish from it. I hope that they can save the cacao trees.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

I'd like to try the seeds to see how closely they resemble chocolate, too, Bill. We might be forced to find out in the future. Hopefully there will still be some real cocoa available as well. Thanks for the comment.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on October 30, 2018:

Hi Linda. How interesting. I was not familiar with the Jackfruit Tree or the fact that it might be able to provide a substitute for cocoa. I also was not aware that the Cocao Tree was in trouble. For us chocolate lovers this is very bad news. I would be curious to try a jackfruit seed, roasted and fermented to see what it tastes like. Might be a hard sell for all the chocolate lovers out there. Very interesting hub as always.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

Thank you, Bill. I hope you and your family have an enjoyable Halloween.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2018:

I hope the problem is solved, too, Jackie. It would help a lot of the cacao trees. Unfortunately, they are experiencing other stresses as well.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 30, 2018:

Always a fascinating read and always filled with information I know nothing about, which I appreciate greatly.

Thank you, Linda, and Happy Halloween to you.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 30, 2018:

Whatever it takes, Linda, I hope they stop these insects! I have not thought of cacao in years but used to buy candy made from it years ago and it was so delicious! I pray for its preservation.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 29, 2018:

That's an interesting point, Flourish. Marketing will be very important if an item like jackfruit seed powder is a good but not great substitute for cocoa.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 29, 2018:

Uh oh! When the word gets out about the impending chocolate crisis there will be a run on all the good candy. We can trick out minds into believing almost anything though. It just takes the proper motivation. When they find a good enough replacement we’ll accept it if it’s marketed right.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 29, 2018:

Hi, Adrienne. I've eaten a canned version of jackfruit and found it quite pleasant, but I'd love to try the fresh fruit. I've never seen one in my local stores, but I'm hoping to find one—or at least pieces of one—eventually. The dried fruit sounds like a nice idea, too.

Adrienne Farricelli on October 29, 2018:

Interesting information. My local supermarket had these giant fruits on sale with a hefty price tag attached to them. I have also seen jackfruit as an ingredient in some sort of vegan BBQ sandwiches. I got to finally try them last summer when my sister offered me a can of the dried fruit. The taste was actually pretty good!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 29, 2018:

Thank you for the comment and for sharing the information, Mary.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 29, 2018:

I never knew that jackfruit seeds can be a substitute for cocoa. I love green jackfruit with mung beans and pork. I also love eating the ripe ones. They are hard to peel but very delicious.

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