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Health News

How the Jackfruit Company Got Started

When Harvard medical student Annie Ryu discovered jackfruit on a trip to India, it changed the course of her life.

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The Passion Behind the Product

Annie Ryu, founder of The Jackfruit Company, believes jackfruit has transformative potential for people and the planet.

Imagine that you’ve arrived in India for the first time, and you’re surrounded by a swirling maelstrom of people, vegetation, and erratic vehicles of all sorts. On the ground in front of you lies a three-foot-long, 80-pound, prickly green monstrosity that resembles a giant porcupine. Upon further inspection, it turns out to be a jackfruit—the largest tree fruit in the world.

Related to figs and mulberries, jackfruits can reach four feet in length and 80 pounds in weight, and are borne on sturdy trees that can reach 50 feet in height. It grows with minimal husbandry in tropical climates, and produces substantial crops for many years. Harvested young, the fruit provides a savory substitute for meat, offering generous helpings of protein, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B. Harvested when ripe, it becomes a sweet treat, with a taste reminiscent of banana, mango, and pineapple combined.

Thought to have originated in India, the jackfruit has been cultivated for more than 6,000 years. But in the past half-century it has fallen into disfavor as a “poor man’s fruit.” Fortunately that perception is changing, and jackfruit is being hailed as a possible savior for the future food supply in the face of global warming.

The Person

When Harvard Medical School student Annie Ryu traveled to India on summer break with her brother, developing an environmentally forward food chain company wasn’t on her radar. But after attending a jackfruit festival, she became intrigued, and began to investigate this versatile fruit. She discovered that it was ubiquitous but wholly underutilized, that a single tree can yield up to three tons of fruit, and that 70 percent of all jackfruit in India was going to waste for lack of supply chains.

So she left her Fulbright Scholarship and Harvard behind, and embarked upon an entirely new adventure. She was determined to “create a pathway to turn jackfruit into income for farming families, while positively impacting the environment and human health.”

The Passion

For Ryu, the first taste of jackfruit was only the beginning of a series of revelations and learning experiences. It was disturbing to her that something so delicious and so easy to grow, with such explosive nutritional and environmental potential, was literally falling by the wayside. Somebody needed to step up.

So she did. In pursuing this goal, she focused on what was, to her, the most important aspect, jackfruit’s “transformative potential—for farming families (livelihoods), for consumers (delicious and satisfying nutrition), and for our planet (sustainability).” Thus was born The Jackfruit Company.

The fact that jackfruit could be a seriously viable meat substitute was primary to Ryu’s vision. Not only could it provide affordable sustenance to populations in developing countries, but it could help offset the contributions to global warming made by the meat industry worldwide.

And though she occasionally casts a longing glance back at her medical aspirations, Ryu is firm in her commitment. “This might sound trite, but the whole process of founding and building this company has confirmed my belief that what it takes to change the world is a whole lot of focus, work, and grit. It’s not magic, it doesn’t take special powers—it takes what you can harness within yourself.”

A powerful lesson, for sure.

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