Jackfruit is one of 21 tropical fruits that are commercially grown in Malaysia, with the country producing over 100% of domestic consumer needs (over 30,000 tonnes a year), according to data from 2017.
While local consumers have long been used to eating ripe jackfruit (Malaysians consume nearly 2kg of it a year), the burgeoning plant-based industry has created an increasing demand for unripe jackfruit, which is used to make plant-based meat.
This has had a trickle-down effect in countries like India where exports to Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States increased from 500 tonnes in 2018 to 800 tonnes in 2019, just based on the demand for plant-based meat.
Given the local availability of jackfruits and the growing demand for them in the plant-based space, what this translates to is an opportunity for farmers to potentially capitalise on this and develop two income streams: one for unripe jackfruit and one for ripe jackfruit.
This was something that was made apparent to Edward Chui, the operations manager of Klang Valley-based PC Studio Café when a jackfruit farmer approached the café with the idea of developing jackfruit plant-based meat using the unripe fruit from his farm.
“One of the reasons the farmer approached us is because he wanted to utilise his unripe jackfruits; not just the ripe ones.
“This is because sometimes when farmers have jackfruit trees and a lot of fruits, they want the best ones to survive, so they end up cutting out the ones that are smaller or less ideal. So there is wastage in that sense.
“So it would be good to see Malaysia using jackfruit as a primary ingredient to expose people to a plant-based diet. This would be good start, because it’s local so we would be supporting sustainability and farmers can increase their income as well,” says Chui.
Chui’s views are echoed by Ahmad Syafik Jaafar, the founder of local jackfruit-based alternative protein brand Nanka who says this is a hugely untapped market at the moment.
“Oh, it’s definitely untapped. When we approached these jackfruit suppliers, they were of course happy that they didn’t have to wait three to four months for it to ripen in order to be sold and it’s another source of income for them.
“And when we looked at the statistics, we realised we are only tapping into 0.03% of the total commercial jackfruit production in Malaysia!
“So I think it shows that there really is room for growth and you could make an industry out of jackfruit-based meat if you wanted to,” he says.
On a larger scale, this means that nationally there is a huge opportunity to tap into this trend and capitalise on it on every level, from jackfruit farming to developing local plant-based products that can compete on an international level and capture the global zeitgeist and appetite for plant-based meat.
“A decade ago, most people would have never imagined that field peas — which were most commonly associated with traditional Indian dals and soups — would become the star ingredient in everything from meaty plant-based burgers to sausages.
“That all changed when Beyond Meat and other innovative start-ups managed to crack the pea protein code through extensive taste and flavour experimentation, turning the once-sleepy field pea market into the next big thing and adding a lucrative new revenue stream for pea producers,” says Mirte Gosker, the acting managing director of The Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, which promotes plant-based foods.
“The current supply chain around jackfruit is fragmented and as a crop, it is a big and laborious ingredient to work with. That’s a deterrent for many plant-based meat producers — who aren’t sure how to crack open jackfruit’s enormous potential — and a ‘cropportunity’ for Malaysia, where skilled producers already have familiarity with the fruit’s eccentricities.
“By investing more deeply in R&D focused on plant-based meat applications of local ingredients, Malaysia could be the nation that finally brings jackfruit’s potential to the global masses,” confirms Gosker.
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