Cempedak is one of the 50 plus plants in the Artocarpus species; of which jackfruit, lakoocha, and breadfruit also belong. Indeed, one look at the bizarre fruit reveals similarities to its cousins: its exterior resembles breadfruit, and its interior looks like jackfruit. Although not related to durian, the two share the same pungent, musky odor when ripe.
Origin of Cempedak
Cempedak’s native to Burma’s Tenasserim region, the Malay Peninsula, and the Indonesian archipelago. Some sources, such as the World Agroforestry Centre, include Sri Lanka and India in its native range. Its cultivation stays namely within Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Other native regions growing cempedak include Indonesia’s Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, west Java, the Moluccas, and West Papua.
Several types of cempedak grow throughout its native habitat: Some have smaller spines; red, pink or even white flesh; other varieties have a richer, sweeter taste.
Only a handful of regions grow cempedak outside of Southeast Asia. They include Hawaii, Australia Jamaica, Kenya, and Zanzibar.
Availability of Cempedak in India
In India, cempedak grows in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It thrives in balmy, warm temperatures and is thus perfect for the country’s southern, coastal regions.
Where to find Cempedak in India
Though India grows cempedak, it is not sold in the markets often, nor is it an integral part of Indian cuisine. In fact, Indians have little regard for the fruit—in Kerala, it’s often fed to cattle and elephants. Cempedak is more common in the villages than cities, and it’s possible to find a few wild trees in the rural South.
Checking for Ripeness
Like breadfruit, cempedak’s desired ripeness depends on its end use. If cooking as a starchy vegetable, select an unripe cempedak. Unripe fruits have a hard, green skin and no odor.
For desserts, fries, and to eat raw, select a ripe cempedak. Look for a fruit with the following characteristics: yellowish-brown skin, yields to the touch, heavy for its size, and highly aromatic. Be forewarned: Cempedak’s odor rivals durian in its pungent muskiness. If need be, choose an unripe fruit and wait for it to ripen over the course of a week.
When ripe, cempedak’s flesh surrounding the large seeds becomes soft and yellow. Some hybrids have orange-gold flesh. In fact, Malaysia has 36 different clones, all of which vary subtly in taste (mildly sweet to pungent) and texture (thick, soft texture to watery and juicy).
Note: Cempedaks grow much larger than melons, but remain smaller than jackfruits.
Taste of Cempedak
Unripe cempedak tastes starchy and bitter, and is not consumed raw. When cooked, however, the unripe fruit tastes like sweet potato.
Ripe cempedak is sweeter than jackfruit. With its musky, sweet, and savory flavor, some have likened cempedak as a cross between durian and mango. The ripe fruit’s soft texture varies from fibrous and rubbery, to sticky and egg-custardy. No fruit in Europe or North America resembles cempedak. Westerners unfamiliar with the fruit could find the smell and texture off-putting.
Nutritional Value of Cempedak
According to the book, “Tropical Fruits,” the nutritional value of cempedak per 100g of edible fruit is as follows:
2.5g Protein (5% RDI)
.4g Fat (negligible)
25.8g Carbohydrates (8.6% RDI)
3.4g Fiber (13.6% RDI)
40mg Calcium (4% RDI)
1.1mg Iron (6.1% RDI)
5mg Phosphorous (negligible)
246mg Potassium (7% RDI)
25mg Sodium (negligible)
17.7mg Vitamin C (29.5% RDI)
48iu Vitamin A
Health Benefits of Cempedak
Cempedak is high in riboflavin, fiber, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. Few studies have been conducted on cempedak, but many reveal benefits of other closely related fruits in the Artocarpus species:
--Malaysian researchers found that ground cempedak seeds have potential as a bread flour substitute. When added in lieu of processed flour, ground seed flour lowers the food’s glycemic index, adds more nutrients, and boosts fiber content.
--According to a 2010 review published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, compounds in the specie’s leaves, bark, stem and fruit have several beneficial bioactive compounds, which show biological activities including antibacterial, antiviral, antitubercular, antifungal, antiplatelet, antiarthritic, and cytotoxic.
--A Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science article revealed that cempedak’s cousin, the jackfruit, shows significant anti-cancer potential.
--Research conducted at the Bandung Institute of Technology Department of Chemistry isolated a compound in the bark and fruit called artioindonesianidin. This compound may treat malaria and prevent the spread of tumors.
--According to a 2013 study published in Phytomedicine, an Artocarpus xanthone showed potent gastroprotective effects against ulcers.
How to Open/Cut:
Here’s a video from Malaysia on how to open the fruit:
To open a cempedak, take a sharp knife and make a large slit from one end of the fruit to the next. Gently pry the fruit open and tear back the skin using the fingertips. Once the fruit’s flesh fully exposed, grab the stem containing the pod-like fruit and slowly lift it away from the skin. Remove the fruit pods from the stem, and set aside. Next, open each fleshy pod and remove the seed.
Note: open cempedak on a tray lined with newspaper—otherwise, latex will drip on the table. If this happens, use oil to remove the sap. Also, oil the knife beforehand to prevent sap sticking to the blade.
Like jackfruit, cempedak is highly perishable once opened. Fresh fruits last less than a week room temperature. In cool storage, cempedak flesh may last up to three weeks—ideal storage conditions are temperatures between 11-13C with relative humidity.
Cempedak Recipe Ideas and Uses
Unripe cempedak recipe ideas:
--Malaysians make a dish called goring cempedak: simply dip the fruit pods—seeds and all—in batter and deep fry.
--Boil fruit slices and add to savory soup recipes: add to any traditional Thai coconut milk soup.
--Use cempedak like any starchy vegetable and add as a sliced potato or breadfruit substitute.
Ripe cempedak recipe ideas:
--Dried and salted flesh can be made into jerky
--When the sweet fruit is chopped into small non-mushy pieces, they can be folded into batter for a cake
--Chocolate covered cempedak dessert is another recipe. Simply blend the fruit into a puree and set in a mold in the freezer. Once cooled, it can then be dipped in chocolate.
--Make cempedak coconut ice cream: First, blend the pulp, and then transfer to a saucepan and add sugar. Heat at a low temperature until the sugar dissolves. Add coconut milk, salt, and vanilla extract, and simmer for five minutes. Transfer back to a bowl and freeze the concoction for six hours. Use a hand blender to churn the mix until the consistency resembles ice cream. Note: it’s possible to blend other fruits with the cempedak pulp, including pineapple, banana, or mango.
--Malaysians make chocolate truffles from cempedak: puree the pulp and combine it with condensed coconut milk and chocolate. Lightly simmer the rich, chocolatey concoction for five minutes. Transfer the mix into a chocolate shell, and then cool.
--A simpler variation is chocolate covered cempedak. Blend the fruit into a puree, and then set into a chocolate mold. Place in the freezer and wait for the fruit to harden. Then, dip the frozen fruit in chocolate.
--Fruits are also preserved in syrup just like pineapple or mango.
When boiled in salt, the seeds become crisp and nutty like water chestnuts. The seeds can also be baked and roasted.
In Banjar, Indonesia, locals consume cempedak skin by soaking it in salt water for three days, fermenting it, and then frying with light seasoning. They liken the taste to a hearty, chewy meat substitute.
Jackfruit, durian, banana, coconut, pineapple, mango, papaya, strawberry
Vegetables: Potato, yam, pumpkin, taro, elephant foot, carrot
Herbs, spices, and oil: Coconut milk, shredded coconut, hazelnut, almond, vanilla, caramel, chocolate, chili powder, cumin, turmeric, curry powder, olive oil, salt, black pepper, pandan leaf, lime, soy sauce, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic, vinegar
The cempedak holds the nickname of “jackfruit’s ugly cousin.”
Kathar, kathal (Hindi)