A risk-free rusk

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Researchers from the Uva Wellassa University of Sri Lanka have cracked the code at using jakfruit seeds – arguably one of the most underutilised sources of nutrition in Sri Lanka – into biscuits, ready for consumption. Needless to say, Ceylon Today was interested to learn more.

Jakfruit has played a vital role in the diet of Sri Lankans, providing valuable micro and macro nutrients. Many often consider jakfruit to be a superfood for its high nutritional value, often being a fan-favourite meat substitute for vegans as well. For Sri Lankans, it has also been a food to support families during economic hardship. This was especially true during the period of the recent pandemic and probably will be in the future as well.

The seeds of the jakfruit also have very high nutritional value. Yet, sadly the seeds are underutilised, consumed only as a cooked food. Of course, not everyone eats the seeds and sometimes they are discarded without any use.

Prof. Janaka Wijesinghe and Nivanthi Kaushalya are aiming to change that with the development of their new biscuit. Using pre-existing research, the two have worked together to develop a method to turn flour made from jackfruit seeds into perfectly enjoyable biscuits.

“I honestly didn’t expect the research to be as successful as it became,” admitted Kaushalya. “But we were able to bring positive results very early on in the research. And thanks to the previous research that had been done on jakfruit seeds, we were able to accomplish this.”

According to the two, 10-15 per cent of the jakfruit consists of its seeds, but even so is hardly ever used for any economic benefit, even when the entire jackfruit itself has been used thus far.

Not only that, the ongoing war in Ukraine is also affecting global food supplies, causing prices on items such as wheat flour to rise as a result. This, coupled with Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and massive inflation rate, results in Sri Lanka bleeding money if an alternative to wheat flour isn’t created.

Of course, wheat flour is the main ingredient to make biscuits as well. With their excellent shelf-life, affordability, quick energy releasing ready-to-eat nature, biscuits are widely enjoyed by many Sri Lankans.

Prof. Wijesinghe and Kaushalya explained to Ceylon Today that according to data from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Colombo, during the trade year 2021/2022 which began in July 2021, Sri Lanka was forecasted to import 1.2 million metric tonnes of wheat, a massive quantity. “The data shows that Sri Lanka spent 300 million dollars for wheat related imports and 6.23 million dollars of that was spent on wheat flour.”

The two explained that by producing biscuits using a locally sourced flour and making use of jakfruit flour in many other applications, Sri Lanka would not only reduce its dependency on wheat flour imports to a certain degree, but may also be able to spark a new industry surrounding jackfruit harvesting, allowing Sri Lankans to finally be able to make as much use of this cornucopia of nutrition we have been gifted with…

“The flour made from jackfruit seeds is gluten free as well. With gluten free products being high in demand internationally, we believe that jakfruit seed biscuits have the potential to become a valuable export for our country as well,” explained Prof. Wijesinghe.

Both agree that further research and development certainly need to continue. Additionally, the jakfruit seed biscuits have to be developed into a commercially viable product that can be produced on a mass scale.

They revealed that a number of Sri Lankan manufacturers have already been contacted regarding the production of a jakfruit seed biscuit product, with one certain manufacturer being especially interested.

“Sadly, we’ve yet to try different variations of biscuits using this flour,” Kaushalya added. “But we certainly hope to continue looking into this.”

Prof. Wijesinghe added that, “When we were doing the experiments, what we focused on was if this was an achievable goal. But now that we have proven it can be done, we are confident that we will be able to develop a number of different varieties that consumers can enjoy.”

“The biscuit as it is definitely has a distinct flavour to it compared to wheat flour, but in terms of crunchiness, and the texture wise, there isn’t much of a difference between a regular biscuit and one made with jakfruit seed flour,” Kaushalya continued.

The two expressed their excitement on the next stage of building a product that they can share with consumers, and contribute their scientific achievement to creating new economic value to one of Sri Lanka’s most valuable sources of nutrition.

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage