Kerala agripreneur Rajasree R’s experiments with jackfruit win her the State Farm Award 2021

As we catch up with Rajasree R, she is busy preparing jackfruit-based treats for a television interview. The agripreneur has been busy since she was chosen for the ‘Best Jackfruit Processor/Other Value Addition 2021’ award instituted by the government of Kerala. “It’s an encouragement to me and to those who have been promoting value-added jackfruit products,” she says.

While the products are processed and manufactured in a unit she runs in Panayil near Nooranad in Alappuzha, where she comes from, she sells them from her hometown in Thiruvananthapuram. In addition to value-added jackfruit products, she sells products made from banana, tapioca and organic rice grown on her farm under the Fruit n’ Root brand, launched nearly six years ago.

Jackfruit Paste

Jackfruit paste | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Jackfruit or chakkathe official fruit of Kerala, has evolved as a superfood using all parts of the fruit – carpels, seeds, rags, core – to make a wide variety of products.

Product offer

Rajasree says she has made more than 400 products from jackfruit – soft, raw and ripe. In addition to the jackfruit-based curries, desserts, and snacks familiar to Malayali households, the list includes burger patties, pasta, noodles, vermicelli, chocolates, and more.

Even the spiky crust isn’t wasted, she says. It is an ingredient in dahashamani (a herbal drinking water mix). The rind is also used in tooth powder.

She has not spared the latex either! It comes in homemade kajal ( kanmashi† “There are age-old methods of kanmashiusing betel leaf, kayyonni bhringaraj or false daisies) and castor oil. I also added latex. However, this product is not commercially manufactured,” she says.

She has also made soap and tea from the fruit, but doesn’t want to reveal the ingredients and method of preparation!

Burger with patty of raw jackfruit

Burger with patty of raw jackfruit | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Rajasree, 50, has lived outside Kerala for over 15 years with her husband, Saish K Pillai, an engineer, and their two sons, Devadath and Vishnudath. “When I got home, I always brought sun-dried jackfruit bulbs and seeds with me. While my friends loved them, I didn’t because they used to have a distinctive, unpleasant smell. Later, when I decided to settle in Thiruvananthapuram six years ago for the education of my sons, I came across the technology to dehydrate the fruit roots and seeds of jackfruit and turn it into value-added products. I took a course with Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Kayamkulam and it changed my life,” she says.

Mix made with jackfruit rags

Mix made with jackfruit rags | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

After training, she entered a competition to make jackfruit-based products. “Among the 12 items I prepared were soup with jackfruit seed and rind, payasam with raw jackfruit, ripe carpel chocolates, burger (pie with raw jackfruit), momos (wheat flour jackfruit floor plate with sweet or spicy jackfruit filling)…,” she shares.

She had then obtained an FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) license. “My plan was to introduce products that are not often made. My sons love burgers and pasta and I wanted to make them healthy by reducing the amount of refined flour ( girl) that goes in. So I used jackfruit flour instead,” she says.

Fruit n Root’s jackfruit paste was launched in 2017 at VAIGA (Value Addition for Income Generation in Agriculture), an annual agribusiness event to showcase the latest trends and techniques. It is organized by the Government of Kerala with the support of the Government of India and various research organizations. “The Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) in Thiruvananthapuram has a machine to make tapioca paste. I took a course at the Institute and learned how to make value-added products from tapioca. I got to use the machine to make jackfruit paste and when I got the technology transfer, I launched the product,” she says. She still uses this machine at CTCRI to make pasta and some value-added tapioca products.

Jackfruit murukku

Jackfruit murukku | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

In between, she managed to set up the processing and production unit in Nooranad that employs 10 people, including eight women. “It was not all easy in the beginning. Every house in my hometown has at least 10 auger trees, but tons of fruit are lost every year. So I approached nearby women to see if they could cut and dry the carpels and seeds. At first they weren’t serious about it. It took me almost a year to get them to understand the importance of the product. Then I taught them to make different jackfruit products,” she says. The unit was established with a grant from Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) Kerala.

Cake made with jackfruit flour

Cake made with jackfruit flour | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

However, some people tried to discourage these women. “But I persisted and we organized a small food festival where the women I trained showed off jackfruit-based products that they had made. By noon, all items were sold out and that was the first step to gain people’s trust,” she says.

Fruit n’ Root jackfruit products contain flour to make breakfast dishes, such as: idiyappam, chapathi, poori and the like. The flour is mixed with rice flour or wheat flour to prepare these dishes.

A sadya spread with dishes made with different parts of jackfruit

A sadya spread with dishes made with different parts of jackfruit | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Versatile fruit

“There is no end to the delicacies you can prepare with jackfruit. I make jackfruit idli, for which raw jackfruit is steamed, ground into a fine paste and added to rice and urad dal mix. Dried jackfruit powder is used for its preparation uppumavu† I have stored frozen ripe and raw carpels. The ripe ones are usually used to make panasamritham, a jelly-like dessert with jackfruit, jaggery, ghee, and cardamom. Curd and sambharam made from jackfruit puree and snacks, pickle and curries made from tender jackfruit ( idichakka) are other products,” she explains.

Jackfruit popsicle

Jackfruit popsicle | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Before the lockdown, she sold Chakkapothi – rice and jackfruit dishes wrapped in fried banana leaves. The traditional Kerala sadya can also be a whole jackfruit affair, she says. Sambaravial, thoran, erisserypachadi, pickle (made with jackfruit rags), payasam, masala curry… jackfruit can all go in. “You can make pappadam with raw jackfruit pulp. Adding sago improves the taste,” says Rajasree.

Jackfruit seed meal can be used for multiple purposes. “I followed the avalosepodi and chammanthipodi training at the Chamber of Commerce. It can also be used to make cakes, chocolates, gulab jamun, toffee, munthirikothu…”

Jackfruit 'sambharam' (buttermilk)

Jackfruit ‘sambharam’ (buttermilk) | Photo credits: SPECIAL PACKAGE

Rajasree points out that it is high time people learned about government schemes to set up agricultural enterprises using homegrown produce. “Otherwise, if you have jackfruit at home, you can easily dry the bulbs in the sun, store them and use them if necessary. It was during the lockdown that people went into their backyards to look for vegetables and jackfruit came to the rescue in many households,” she says.

(Check out Rajasree’s YouTube page, Fruit n’ Root for videos of some jackfruit-based dishes)


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