James Joseph was a former director at Microsoft who quit his job in the US eight years ago to promote jackfruit.

James Joseph posing in a blue t-shirt next to a Jackfruit tree
news Food Thursday, October 08, 2020 - 16:45

The National Startup awards this year, under the Food category, went to a Kerala startup which makes and sells jackfruit in powder form. Jackfruit 365 is a first-of-its kind initiative in food processing, which aims to promote the fruit and make it available throughout the year as flour. Three years ago, its founder James Joseph invented and patented a ‘green jackfruit powder’ for diabetics which the firm now sells across India and the Middle East.

Jackfruit 365’s success is hardly a surprise considering that its founder spent eight long years experimenting with the fruit. It is now his obsession and has also become his new career, after he quit his cushy job at Microsoft in 2012. What started off as promoting jackfruit, which he believes is a superfood much like avocado and kale, led to an accidental discovery that created his final product – the green jackfruit flour for diabetics.

“I always wondered why the jackfruit never featured in any five-star cuisine. Whenever I ate mashed potato at a restaurant, I’d think that an unripe jackfruit mash would taste as good. I then returned home to Kerala where a huge jackfruit tree grows in my ancestral house and decided to experiment with the fruit,” James, who is currently based in his hometown of Aluva, told TNM.

The former IT man took the jackfruit to a chef to create recipes. Jackfruit burgers, Galouti kebabs, Masala dosa and Biryani were created with resounding success. “I mean if McDonald’s can make a potato burger and sell them, why can’t I make a jackfruit burger with crispy jackfruit seeds? The burger turned out much better than a potato patty burger,” James said.

A fibre-rich fruit often used as a replacement for rice and wheat in Kerala, jackfruit has many nutritional benefits, James said. Its high potassium content helps reduce high blood pressure. The fruit also enables the human body to better absorb iron, helping in preventing and curing anaemia. That the jackfruit is also high on antioxidants and flavonoids means that it helps fight cancer.

But most importantly, James discovered that the unripe jackfruit could be a natural marvel for diabetics. “The glycemic load of jackfruit is at least 40% lower than that of rice or wheat, making it a fitting carbohydrate substitute. This means that those with diabetes who eat unripe jackfruit need only consume lower levels of insulin, as the fruit and the fibre in it digest faster and help reduce blood sugar levels,” James added. It is based on this that Jackfruit 365 now sells the green jackfruit flour which can be mixed in different batters and consumed.

Despite its perks, the jackfruit is a highly undervalued natural product in Kerala. And in his early days, James started off by streamlining the organised market for Indian jackfruit and selling it across the country.

While the fruit itself tastes good and is an apt substitute for meat, it is heavily underused in India. According to James, about Rs 2,000 crore worth of jackfruit that grows over three months in the summer is wasted every year in the country. This is mainly due to the fruit size, its packaging and logistics. Each jackfruit can weigh between 3-5 kg and hence transporting them in bulk becomes challenging. It is also highly perishable, not to mention that cleaning it and breaking it into pods is a task that requires “four hands and 90 minutes”. If not for these reasons, then the strong odour, the thorns on its skin and the sticky sap inside the fruit could make cleaning it difficult.

Realising this, James began freeze drying jackfruit and selling them. Freeze drying is a method of dehydrating and storing the jackfruit pods, which is mostly filled with water. The dehydrated fruit has a better shelf life and goes back to its original form when soaked in lukewarm water, James added. His company set up food processing units in order to break down and freeze dry the jackfruit before pushing it into the market.

The company then started packing and selling freeze-dried jackfruit at Rs 2,000 per packet. Resounding success aside, by 2017 James had discovered the glycemic effect of jackfruit and was well on his way to inventing the powder and patenting his invention.

“I had to arrive at the binding factor for the flour, which was tricky. The binding is what holds the powder together and makes it stretchy. For me, I want the powder to be able to be added in dosa and idli batter, to cater to a south Indian consumer base, and to roti dough for the north of India. I finally arrived at a binding factor that was perfect for both,” James said.

The pack serves 30 grams of flour a day for a month. “A spoonful of the flour should be mixed into the food being prepared – be it rotis or idlis, and the effect has been documented as testimonials by our clients,” James added, stating that it was best to break down 30 grams into 10 grams each for the three meals per day.

With a supply chain across Kerala, the firm plucks jackfruit from individuals or planters across districts during the summer and then takes them to their factory in Kothamangalam which has a capacity to prepare five tonnes of flour. “We start from the southernmost tip of Kerala, near the Tamil Nadu border. This is where the monsoon begins. And then we pluck jackfruit from central Kerala and finally move to the hilly ranges,” James explained. With more business, he aims to access jackfruit even in North Karnataka, the North East, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and other countries from the equatorial belt.

Jackfruit 365 is currently available in 5,000 shops in Kerala and is also sold via e-commerce websites Amazon and Big Basket. The startup also teamed up with Eastern Condiments for distribution, which has taken the product to Middle East chains, including Lulu and Carrefour.

“My ultimate aim is to bring in a policy level change in India regarding the consumption of jackfruit. Just like how iodised salt was made compulsory in India by 1992, this high fibre flour should be an ingredient to enrich rice and wheat products as it will only increase the fruit-vegetable consumption among the general population,” James said.

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