This photo shows jackfruit dishes in Thrissur in the south Indian state of Kerala.
Green, spiky and with a strong, sweet smell, the bulky jackfruit has morphed from a backyard nuisance in India's south coast into the meat-substitute darling of vegans and vegetarians in the West.
Part of the South Asia's diet for centuries, jackfruit was so abundant that tonnes of it went to waste every year.
But now India, the world's biggest producer of jackfruit, is capitalising on its growing popularity as a "superfood" meat alternative -- touted by chefs from San Francisco to London and Delhi for its texture when unripe.
"There are a lot of enquiries from abroad... At the international level, the interest in jackfruit has grown manifold," Varghese Tharakkan tells AFP from his orchard in Kerala's Thrissur district.
The fruit, which weighs five kilogrammes (11 pounds) on average, has a waxy yellow flesh when ripe and is eaten fresh, or used to make cakes, juices, ice creams and crisps.
When unripe, it is added to curries or fried, minced and sauted. In the West, shredded jackfruit has become a popular alternative and is even used as a pizza topping.
Jack of all fruits
James Joseph quit his job as a director at Microsoft after spotting Western interest in jackfruit "gaining momentum as a vegan alternative to meat".
The COVID-19 crisis, Joseph says, has created two spikes in consumer interest. The COVID-19 crisis, Joseph says, has created two spikes in consumer interest.
"Coronavirus caused a fear for chicken and people switched to tender jackfruit.
In Kerala, lockdown caused a surge in demand for mature green jackfruit and seeds due to shortage of vegetables due to border restrictions," he explains.
But they are also using substitutes long popular in Asia such as soy-based tofu and tempeh, and wheat derivative seitan, as well as jackfruit.
This boom has meant more and more jackfruit orchards have sprung up in the coastal state.
India has one of the highest diabetes rates in the world and is expected to hit around 100 million cases by 2030, according to a study by The Lancet.
'Secrets of success'
As global warming wreaks havoc on agriculture, food researchers say jackfruit could emerge as a nutritious staple crop as it is drought-resistant and requires little maintenance.
Tharakkan has not looked back since he switched from growing rubber to jackfruit on his land, and has a variety that he can cultivate year-round.
"When I cut down my rubber trees everyone thought I had gone crazy. But the same people now come and ask me the secret of my success," he smiles.
In Tamil Nadu and Kerala alone, demand for jackfruit is now 100 metric tonnes every day during the peak season yielding a turnover of $19.8 million a year, says economics professor S. Rajendran of the Gandhigram Rural Institute.
But there is rising competition from countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand.
Jackfruit's newfound international fame is a massive turnaround for a plant that while used in local dishes, has long been viewed as a poor man's fruit.
Each tree can yield as 150-250 fruits a season.
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