Mexico: Could jackfruit prove a snack for all trades?

July 05 , 2016

While jackfruit has taken off as a vegetarian alternative to meat in the U.S. the crop is barely known south of the border where much of the crop is sourced. Jackfruit - Michel Moreno

Michel Moreno started growing the gigantic fruit a year ago after purchasing a 15-hectare farm on the Yucatan Peninsula, and apart from his export ambitions he also plans to raise awareness about jackfruit in his home country too.

"They only know about jackfruit in the state of Nayarit, which is 2,500km (1,553mi) from here. That's very very far - normally people from this region don't know the fruit and have never been to Nayarit," Moreno told www.freshfruitportal.com.

"The positive aspect is when someone reads about it on the internet or tries it, then they know it's very nutritious - it's considered a superfood.

"When they see it they say, 'Wow, what's that? It's so large', and that's both an advantage and a disadvantage," he said, adding an individual fruit could weigh up to 25kg (55lbs).

This sheer size is a challenge for growers like Moreno, but one way he plans to get around the problem is through processing.

"Within a year we’ll have distribution at least in Mexico for dried fruit, because to start it’s complicated to have the fresh fruit and it’s difficult to get people to try it," he said.

"But when it’s dried it’s much easier to move it in packaging to any place in Mexico.

"There are a lot of trees now, more or less 2,000 trees in this farm, and I have more trees that I’m planting in zones where there are no trees."

The operation not only represents new territory for commercial jackfruit production, but for Moreno as well as he had no prior experience in farming.

Michel Moreno

Michel Moreno

"I’m an industrial engineer and agriculture was something I’d always liked. I always wanted to do something associated with nature and farming," he said.

"Last year in October-November an opportunity arose to see an area in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, and there was land with jackfruit trees that no one was using," he said.

"It was abandoned, unused for seven years. The fruit had fallen to the ground and no one used it. But I had gotten to know jackfruit two years prior and I loved it."

Moreno could not find any place in that part of the country that sold the fruit, so he decided to research the opportunities.

"I did a trip through the center of the country in the state of Nayarit where there is a lot of production.

"I got some seeds from there, I spoke with the owner of the land here, negotiated a deal and started to grow trees," he said, adding there were already some 20-year-old jackfruit trees on the property.

He highlighted his company JackFruit Mexico's land was mostly "dense tropical forest", and there was still a lot of clearing to be done.

"In one year it overgrows if you leave it without pruning. Seven years is a long time so there are a lot of trees between the jackfruit, and there are lots of parts of this 15ha where there’s no access.

"There is now however a part that's clean, of three hectares more or less. From that zone there is about half a [metric] ton produced per week. Jackfruit pulp

The next step now is to find partners.

"With the production I’ve got it’d be for sale in this region, in the peninsula around Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum - there are several places on the peninsula where I'm trading the fruit.

"I have a very important customer in London who wants the fruit but just in pulp – not the whole fruit because it’s expensive to send a whole fruit that is so big...they're not like lemons or mangoes.

"40% of the weight of the fruit is pulp and 60% is waste – you don’t eat it," he said, adding this waste was used for compost."

He said the aim was to process the fruit as close to the farm as possible.

"The idea is to have a place where you take the pulp, you can dry it, package it, and commercialize it.

"At the same time I’m coordinating with the customer in London because they want a very specific process called freeze-drying.

Jackfruit has proven a useful substitute for imitation pulled pork

Jackfruit has proven a useful substitute for imitation pulled pork

Moreno is also working towards organic certification, and sees great sales possibilities in the U.S. in the years to come.

"Markets are focused now on veganism, vegetarianism, good health and organic food, so the focus of most people who are now involved with jackfruit is to sell it green.

"That means the fruit hast to be cut from the tree two or three weeks before it ripens. That’s when it can be used for cooking, in savory meals, with tomato, onion, or however you want to cook it – there are many options. That is the growing trend."

'The fruit of seven flavors'

Moreno represents a new breed of jackfruit grower in Mexico, but the country's point of reference for the fruit is Nayarit-based Jackfruit Quiñones.

"We started growing in 1999 and have been adding value to the product since 2005 - then it became a micro-company of Jackfruit Quiñones and we started to incorporate other growers," says representative Rondalinda Joya.

"There are a lot of growers who are in groups who we source the fruit from for export, around the San Blas area. Their farms range from one hectare to 10 hectares in size, so you have large farms, small farms, it's a mix.

"We only export as fresh and in pulp, and there are value-added products we sell locally."

With the fruit the group sources it is able to stock one 26ft container bound for the United States every day.

"The fruit we export goes to department stores and areas with Asian populations, and it’s expanded now on the national level in the United States - small stores and also big stores like Walmart, Kroger.

"You need to take some steps, complying with the regulations for exporting to the United States," she said, highlighting her farm was certified as organic but most supplying farmers were still in the transition of applying for organic certification.

"Now we can say that we are harvesting the sacrifice of 20 years."

When asked about the fruit's flavor, Joya said it depended on the consumer's palate and how it was eaten.

"What I can say is those who consumer this fruit, consume it again, even though it’s not a mango, a banana, a pineapple, or a fruit that is known very well nationally

"Here it’s known as the fruit of seven flavors. Why? Because according to the palate of the person, they’ll identify different flavors.

"For some it takes like banana, others pineapple, mango,  – we have the experience ourselves of working in national and international fairs. Some say a sweet potato or melon."

For Joya specifically, jackfruit taste like sweet potato as jam, like banana when its dried, and mango or pineapple when it's fresh.

"And in syrup it tastes like peach," she said.

"It’s a fruit that’s not had the popularity [locally]. We've had a lot of desire for people to get to know it because it has a lot of benefits. If you eat it, it gives you a lot of energy.

"We even have a nectar that you can’t consume at night because you wouldn’t sleep."

www.freshfruitportal.com

 

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  1. Michel Moreno Mercadillo says:

    There's still a lot of work to be done in Mexico to popularize the jackfruit. This fruit can be marketed as a superfood as it is highly nutritious and delicious.
    We are looking into the future of food that could be a replacement for staple crops under the threat from climate change...