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Student’s aim: A harvest of good

Article / Review by on February 16, 2012 – 11:46 pmNo Comments

Student’s aim: A harvest of good
Importing jackfruit could create markets, help Indian farmers

Last summer, on her first day in Bangalore, India, Annemarie Ryu ’13 fell in love. The object of her rapt attention was green, spiky, and the size of a beach ball.

What Ryu fell for was jackfruit. Her first taste of the vitamin-rich food was from a sidewalk vendor: a handful of slippery yellow slices, served up on a sheet of newspaper.

“I had the first piece, and I thought it was something out of wonderland,” said Ryu. “I thought: My word, amazing. I had this magical feeling.”

"I had this magical feeling," recalled Annemarie Ryu '13 upon trying jackfruit for the first time. Photo courtesy of Annemarie Ryu“I had this magical feeling,” recalled Annemarie Ryu ’13 upon trying jackfruit for the first time. Photo courtesy of Annemarie Ryu

That magical feeling about Artocarpus heterophyllus could soon be yours. Ryu, a pre-med anthropology concentrator and veteran Harvard public service traveler, has started Global Village Fruits, a for-profit social enterprise she hopes will connect farmers in southern India with American consumers.

With harvest season in India now under way, she expects to receive a test shipment in March, and a larger one in May. There will be dried jackfruit for gourmet stores and wheaty-tasting jackfruit flour for bakeries. (Rap artist and musical entrepreneur Devon Ray Williams ’10-’11 is already at work on package designs.)

It’s about time America woke up to jackfruit, said Ryu. The oval tree fruit has long been a common food in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, East Africa, and Brazil. It is variously known as jakjacamak mi, and mit. It’s the national fruit of Bangladesh. But the West has not caught on, to the wonderment of some experts  even long ago.

Jackfruits are high in fiber, beta-carotene, and manganese, as well as being “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial” — whew! — “anticarcinogenic, anti-fungal, antineoplastic,” and more. Photo courtesy of Annemarie RyuJackfruits are high in fiber, beta-carotene, and manganese, as well as being “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial” — whew! — “anticarcinogenic, anti-fungal, antineoplastic,” and more. Photo courtesy of Annemarie Ryu

In 1928, America botanist O.W. Barrett, once a specimen collector for Harvard, remarked on the fruit whose trees are “so well-behaved that it is difficult to explain the general lack of knowledge concerning them.” In the 19th century, jackfruit cultivation had made modest inroads into Florida, but never caught on with growers.

Jackfruit has a robust nutritional profile, said Ryu, who plans a career in public health and international medicine. It’s high in fiber, beta-carotene, and manganese, as well as being “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial” — whew! — “anticarcinogenic, anti-fungal, antineoplastic,” and more.

Dried into snack strips, jackfruit tastes like mango, though it is more subtly sweet. Jackfruit seeds (there are up to 500 in a single fruit) can be made into flour that is gluten-free, high in protein, and rich in vitamins B1 and B6. Its interior bulbs can be ground into a flavorful powder, ready for blending into baked goods, smoothies, ice cream, and bubble tea. Ryu hopes products like these will spur an American jackfruit market.

For now, shipping the fresh fruit from India is not likely because of federal regulations, she said. But jackfruit in its dried forms can be imported with little red tape.

Jackfruit, the product of stately trees up to 60 feet high, can grow to the size of a pumpkin, 80 pounds in weight and 3 feet wide. Ryu stretches out her arms to show how big.

But the fruit, properly marketed, has value beyond taste, nutrition, and versatility, she said. It can help poor farmers. In southern India, the locus of Ryu’s interest, jackfruit is grown on small plots without sprays or fertilizers, but is seldom marketed beyond a farmer’s village. Without wider markets, by one estimate, 75 percent of jackfruit in India never reaches consumers. “It’s a delicious thing,” said Ryu, “going to waste.”

Her jackfruit inspiration sprouted after a fervent series of international public service trips starting in freshman year. Ryu, who just turned 21, has delivered water chlorination units to the Dominican Republic and built latrines in Haiti. She has conducted health research in Nicaragua and India. She also traveled to Cuba last year as a violinist with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra.

So it is natural that Global Village Fruits has a social mission too — one that would turn small farmers into entrepreneurs with reliable markets. Profits would someday underwrite microloans for other small business owners, lifting more people out of poverty. “At the core of this company,” said Ryu, “is how it would help farmers.”

By Corydon Ireland
Harvard Staff Writer

Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

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Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. Harvard faculty are engaged with teaching and research to push the boundaries of human knowledge. For students who are excited to investigate the biggest issues of the 21st century, Harvard offers an unparalleled student experience and a generous financial aid program, with over $160 million awarded to more than 60% of our undergraduate students. The University has twelve degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, offering a truly global education.

‘Universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate… The ideal and breadth of liberal education that embraces the humanities and arts as well as the social and natural sciences is at the core of Harvard’s philosophy. ’/ Drew Gilpin Faust

More About Harvard University & About Harvard University. Information.

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* The above story is adapted from materials provided by Harvard University

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