The food we consume should be healthy for the body. This is the popular rule in nutritional science. A few decades ago our forefathers lived a simple life adhering to a healthy diet. In those good old days our food patterns were compatible with the traditional nutritional style. Hence, in the past, incidence of non-communicable diseases was very low in the country.

Unfortunately, the present generation suffers from numerous non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, in contrast to the health data from a few decades back. This means, we have become patients owing to our unhealthy food consumption patterns. This shows that we have gradually deviated from the good food habits followed in the past.

Sri Lankans of the yesteryear knew well with their inherited knowledge about what food were good to eat and what were not and how they were nutritionally beneficial or detrimental to the body. Recent research has confirmed the relevance of those food consumption patterns to our genetic system through experiments conducted with the help of modern scientific methods.

Connection of Jack tree

The connection between Lankans and the Jack tree dates back centuries. So many recorded evidences can be found in the Mahavamsa written in the fifth century. The link between Jack as a food source and our traditional food habits are well recorded in the books such as Amawatura, Visuddhi Magga, Eda Heladiva, written in different eras.
Jack has a close connection with our culture. In the past cooked Jack helped promote milk production in breast feeding mothers. It had a special place in the farmer’s meal (Ambula) which was carried to the paddy field. Jack cuisine cooked in whatever way has a special place in the local almsgiving menu.

As a practice, urban mothers never forget to include Jack in the meal of their city-dwelling sons and daughters who visit home. As a ritual, parents let girls who attain age see a Jack tree or a branch of it in her first ‘coming out’, believing that seeing a Jack tree is a good omen for her future successes.

The Jack tree is popular among Sri Lankans and is christened the rice tree (Bath Gasa) and it is regarded as a compulsory dish in their daily meal during Jack season. But with the change of lifestyles we have gotten used to consuming fast food such as pizza, kotthu, fried rice with much pride, and as a result, have become patients of non-communicable diseases.

Multiplicity in Jack

Jack has a unique place as a staple diet, especially among Sri Lankans due to its multiplicity. It is used as a vegetable when the fruit is at its young stage, to prepare dishes like Pahi Maluwa and Kos Mallum.

At the mature stage Jack is cooked as a curry called Kiri Kos Maluwa; seeds are used to prepare Kalu Pol Maluwa. Seeds fried in oil are made into delicacies by adding dry fish or sprats with chili. Kos Eta Guli, a snack for evening tea, can be prepared by frying the seeds without oil, then grinding with sugar and scraped coconut in a mortar. The ripened globular fleshy and fibrous bulbs of fruit (kosmadulu) called vela or varaka, a delicious sweet-smelling dessert. The excess harvest of the fruit and seed could be preserved by boiling and drying, atukos, to prepare curry dishes during the off season.

The carbohydrate content in 100 grams of Jack is 25.8g (seed); 16 to 25g (ripened); 10g (mature); 9.4 to 11.5g (young). This shows that Jack is a carbohydrate-rich food and 100g of Jack seed contain 94 calories. The ripened fruit has a high percentage of carbohydrates while the young Jack has a low percentage.


The fibre content in the flesh of the globular Jack bulb is high. It has two types of fibres; saturated and unsaturated. This high fibre content is important because Jack is rich in starch when taken as a staple food.

Resistant starch

This starch does not digest in the body when it passes through the intestine with fibre. Energy is produced with the assistance of bacteria in the intestine combined with starch molecules. This energy is used to maintain the cells in the alimentary canal.

Bacteria in alimentary canal

The bacteria in the alimentary canal can be divided into two types. A certain level of favourable bacteria in intestine helps to retard the development of unfavourable bacteria that cause illnesses such as cholera.

Resistant starch in Jack seed is eight per cent of its weight, which helps to develop favourable bacteria acting as a prebiotic. The protein content in 100g of Jack seed is 4.7 per cent. It contains Jacalin, a lectin protein which plays an important role in the immunization process.

A nutritional balance in our daily food consumption is imparative. According to research data, our meal is deficient in proteins. Consumption of fish, meat, eggs is essential to keeping the body healthy but high prices of these foods prevent most people from adding such food to the daily diet. Therefore, having a meal with Jack is a suitable protein substitute for low-income segments of society.


Vitamin A is an essential component for good eyesight, attractive skin complexion and proper functioning of the immune system. A research conducted in 2006 revealed that 29 per cent of children below age five are deficient in Vitamin A. Ripened Jack aka Varaka is rich in Vitamin A 30 IU which comes under beta carotene category. In addition, it is one of the best sources of vitamin which also happens to be an inexpensive source.

The percentage of vitamin B in Jack is high. It contains 25 per cent of the daily thiamine (Vitamin B1) requirement. Thiamine deficiency causes ailments such as numbness in limbs, weakening of nervous system and even heart failure. This deficiency is prevalent in alcoholics. Hundred grams of Jack contain 14 grams of Vitamin C. This provides one third of an adult’s daily requirement.


Calcium, potassium, zinc, iron and magnesium are aplenty in Jack. Western scientists define that active foods are nutritious as well as high in immune power. Jack is an anti-oxidant food comprising Ascorbic Acid, Carotene, Lycopene and Saponine. Scientists have paid much attention to this active food area considering its health benefits and immune power in addition to the nutritional value.

Jack comes under the active food category owing to its high content of Ascorbic acid, carotene, lycopene and saponine. These anti-oxidants protect the tissues in the body removing free radicals that damage organs.

All in all, we are fortunate to have such a nutritious food-providing tree growing on our soil. Scientists have now confirmed that our forefathers knowingly or not knowingly had followed good food habits in the past. It is commendable that the people now focus their attention towards observing good food habits in a period where non-communicable diseases are rampant.

Tarnslated by W D Sarathchandra