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What is Artocarpus?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Artocarpus is a genus of trees and shrubs of the mulberry family, Moraceae. It has about 60 species, all native to Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Several Artocarpus species are cultivated for their edible fruit, especially Artocarpus altilis, or breadfruit, and A. heterophyllus, or jackfruit. Some species are also cultivated for their timber or edible seeds.

A. altilis is one of the highest yielding fruit trees. Breadfruit is grapefruit-sized, rich in starch, and tastes of potato or bread when cooked. The fruit is also traditionally preserved as a fermented paste, often made by burying the peeled fruits in a leaf-lined pit. A. altilis also yields natural latex, which has traditionally been used to caulk boats.

A. heterophyllus is also grown for its starchy fruit, which may be eaten cooked when young or raw when ripe. Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, and the national fruit of Bangladesh. It tastes similar to a tart banana. The leaves and seeds of the fruit are also edible and used in South and Southeast Asian cuisine.

A. heterophyllus is also grown for its timber, which is used to make musical instruments, furniture, and a dye used by Thai Forest Buddhists. The plant also produces a gum used to fill small holes in pots. Despite its utility, the tree has become an invasive species in Brazil.

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Another important Artocarpus fruit is the cempedak, which grows on a tree alternately classified as A. integer, A. champeden, or A. polyphema. The cempedak is similar in taste to jackfruit or breadfruit, but sweeter. In Malaysia, the cempedak arils, fleshy structures surrounding each seed, are battered and deep fried as a form of popular street food.

A. odoratissimus produces yet another closely related fruit, called the marang or tarap, among other common names. The plant's scientific name references the strong smell of its fruit. The marang has whiter and softer flesh than jackfruit or cempedak, and it is considered to be superior in taste. The seeds are also edible when roasted or boiled.

A. anisophyllus, or the Entawak, is native to Borneo and Sumatra, where it is cultivated for its round, brownish yellow fruit. The fruit is sweet, red-fleshed, and eaten raw. The Entawak is very large, reaching 75 feet (23 meters) in height.

A. blancoi, A. rubrovenus, and a. treculianus which grow only in the Philippines, are all of vulnerable conservation status due to habitat loss. The same issue threatens A. hypargyreus or Kwai Muk, endemic to China. A. nobilis is another vulnerable Artocarpus species, endemic to Sri Lanka.

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