Sunday, 12 May 2002  
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'Herali' - The true friend of man : Grow more Jak to free the starving

by Vimukthi Fernando

If one is your best friend what would he or she do if you were hungry? Would one run away, and leave you starving? Or would one provide you with a good meal. Real friends do care and share, we all know and let me tell you, that is what he is.... a friend... a real friend... who would take care of you in health and in sickness, nurturing you with goodness... Artocarpus heterophyllus we call her in Latin, the friend of humankind. And Kos, Herali or Pilakkai in the vernacular.

The long standing relationship of this wonder fruit with the Sri Lankan households cannot be forgotten even though the food patterns and tastes seem to be following a western trend in the 3rd millennium. It was an essential part of the traditional Sri Lankan diet, consumed in many forms. Polos, or the tender jak-fruit was turned to a delicious spicy curry. At half grown stage it provided 'mellun'. The pulp of the full grown unripe fruit boiled and served with scraped coconut and 'kattasambol' substituted rice. It was also cooked with condiments as a nutritious white curry. The seeds are consumed curried, boiled or preserved sun dried. The ripe fruit provides a sweet sensation to many a mouth.

Added to its food use many are its other uses. Timber is one which draws much attention and leads to the destruction of trees in Sri Lanka. Its leaves are used as stock for flocks of cattle and goats. The latex or the sap is used as a glue to mend household utensils. Tanin from the bark and roots is used to colour clothes especially in colouring the robes of buddhist monks. Various parts of the tress such as leaves, buds roots and so on are valued for its medicinal uses. Leaves a cure for diabetes, the latex a cure for abscesses and glandular swellings. The root a remedy for skin diseases and asthma and the seeds regarded an aphrodisiac.

The origin of Jak-fruit is believed to be in the tropical rain-forests of Western Ghats in India. Jak-fruit is a native of Asian tropics and common in India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh and so on. However, over the past 200 years it has spread in the tropics of Africa and the Americas. In Sri Lanka the ancient kings promoted propagating Jak-fruit and planted acres and acres of Jak-fruit trees. In the early 50s Sri Lanka recorded over 11,000 acres of planted jak fruit, much of which is destroyed now. Sri Lanka, (then Ceylon) was the country which introduced jak-fruit to the United States in the latter half of the 1800s. They were exported to Florida from the Reasoner's Nursery.

Humans must have stumbled upon this 'all purpose' fruit long before they discovered rice, say anthropologists. However, the story behind the discovery of Jak-fruit in Sri Lanka is somewhat hilarious. Long years ago there was a famine in the country for a very long period, the story goes. The villagers had nothing to eat. Every known food for consumption had dried out. However, one woman or 'gama hamine' unable to bear her hunger though of experimenting on this huge fruit going waste under the trees. Plucking a sizable fruit she boiled it and found it very much palatable. However, she declined to tell her secret to her nosey neighbours. Not experiencing any poisonous or disagreeable qualities afterwards she offered it to her husband who came home in the evening. The husband declared that she is a 'hera liya' or a thieving woman in her deviousness in hiding it from neighbours. The fruit was called 'herali' from that time.

Jak fruit has its many varieties basically falling into two categories. Waraka - which contains a somewhat firm and crisp pulp and Vela - with a soft and mushy pulp. Two other known varieties in Sri Lanka are Peni-waraka which consists small pulp thick with sweetness and Kuru-waraka which produces small rounded fruits. Jak is a composite fruit forming out of the in florence consisting of many flowers on a main fleshy axis. The size of the fruit could range from about 8 inches to about 3 feet and could weigh up to about 50 Kg.

Jak-fruit is truly a friend of the humankind, second to none with its many uses. Though it is a little cumbersome for the busy working woman to include jak based food in the daily diet in the traditional way, now they come in processed form with convenient and attractive packaging.

Crescat Development Ltd.

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