The jackfruit is indigenous to India, but spread early throughout Southeast Asia, and now grows in Africa and Latin America as well. It is related to the breadfruit.
I was not surprised to learn that jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, for I have seen some truly massive specimens. A single fruit can weigh as much as 36 kilograms and be a meter long and 75 centimeters in diameter.
The skin of the fruit is green or yellow when ripe and covered with small spikes. Inside the skin are many large edible bulbs of yellow flesh around smooth, oval seeds. All parts of the jackfruit, including the fruits, are filled with a white, sticky latex which will coat your hands and utensils unless they are rubbed with oil first.
According to the jackfruit information page at www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/jackfruit.html, "When fully ripe, the unopened jackfruit emits a strong disagreeable odor, resembling that of decayed onions, while the pulp of the opened fruit smells of pineapple and banana".
Before I went to Asia I heard many horror stories about the infamous durian, well-known for having an off-putting smell. In this, it appears, the durian is like the jackfruit. In addition, the durian too is large and spiny, though not, it is true, as large as the jackfruit. I'd heard the durian stories, and I was afraid, very afraid.
A fruit-selling woman in Bangkok, from whom I often bought pomelo, was one day selling the flesh of large spiny fruits. She assured me that it was delicious, and urged me to try some. I did, with trepidation, only to discover...deliciousness! Hmm, I thought, this durian stuff is not so bad after all! I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I never got a whiff of any nasty smell, but then with all the fish sauce that floats around in the Bangkok air, not to mention the horribly filthy canals, everything smells a bit decayed all the time anyway. Smell or no smell, I considered durian delicious. I ate it every day, all season.
Then one day it really was durian season, and it turned out I had been eating jackfruit all along. The moral of the story? Not all giant stinky spiny fruits are durians.
And what of the durian, you ask? The smell is like...well, in a word, farts. And the custard-like texture was not appealing to me at all. Jackfruit I'd eat any day, but durian? No thanks.