Cempedak is a tree that shares the same genus as the jackfruit and the breadfruit, all belong to the larger Moraceae family. Its original native range was in Southeast Asia, starting from Indonesia in the West to Papua in the East. It can also be found today in Australia's Queensland state.
It is a sizeable evergreen tree that can grow up to a height of 20 m. However, most cempedak trees are around 12 m high. The tree has both male and female flowers, so it is a monoecious species. It grows very fast and produces a massive amount of fruit at least once per year, sometimes even twice.
The fruit is an aggregate one (botanically named a syncarp) and is large in size, with a length between 20 and 35 cm and a width of 10 to 15 cm. It is round or cylindrical in shape and has a thin skin with a leathery appearance. The skin is covered with a pattern of pentagons, which can be flat or raised, with a yellow or brown color.
The large seed is surrounded by a thick layer of arils that make up the flesh. The flesh can have a color ranging from white to orange and tends to be fibrous. It is soft and sweet, with a slimy texture, and can be eaten after boiling or frying. The taste resembles durian but is otherwise very similar to the one of related species like the breadfruit or jackfruit. Seeds have a size of about 2-3 cm and look like either flat spheres or are a bit more elongated.
While found all around Southeast Asia, the cempedak is most common in Thailand and Malaysia, where it can sometimes be named chempedak. It is considered to be part of the Artocarpus family of trees. The family name comes from Greek and combines the word for fruit with the one designating bread.
The cempedak's bark usually has a rough surface, even if the one on young trees is normally smooth. Leaves are green in color, which is not very obvious since they are covered with a brownish layer of hair.
The fruit of the cempedak tree is shaped like a pear or a barrel and its color varies from green to yellow or brown. The seeds resemble beans in shape and are quite numerous, every fruit housing between 100 and 500. The flesh is yellow and has a soft texture. It is the most valuable part of the plant and can be eaten raw.
While the flesh around them is usually eaten, the seeds are also edible and can be roasted for consumption. The flesh can be preserved after salting, but is also processed into jams or other sweet products. However, it is also possible to cook and eat the whole fruit. It is cultivated commercially in countries like Malaysia.
The fruit is covered in protective spines but this doesn't prevent removing them by hand and opening up the fruit. However, it should be done with care since it will release a very sticky liquid that can't be washed away with water and a cleaning product with oil will be needed.
The jackfruit is a very close relative of the cempedak and can be found more often in stores. It is not as sweet but otherwise the jackfruit has the same amount of flesh. The jackfruit is easily identified because it is not irregular in shape in the middle, being almost perfectly spherical. Since the jackfruit flesh is not as sweet, it is not as good for deserts and other similar products.
Being an evergreen tree, it can sometimes produce fruits twice per year. It is mainly cultivated for its large edible fruit but it has some industrial uses as well. The wood is strong and also resists termites, which is a very useful feature in its native area. The bark is an ingredient in the yellow dye made famous by the robes of Buddhist monks in Asia.
Fruits, bark, seeds, roots.
The cempedak fruit is very rich in vitamin A, which plays many roles in the body. One of the most important ones is to protect the eye cornea and improve vision. It is also a major source of dietary fiber, very good for digestion. Some compounds found in the bark can cure malaria and maybe even fight cancer.
Vitamin A can be found in other vegetal sources but the cempedak fruit is one of the most delicious, so it can be a very enjoyable way to get your supply of this essential vitamin. Vitamin A is a very powerful antioxidant that plays a key role in the immune system but is especially known for improving vision.
The cempedak is very good for the heart, due to the ideal mix of fibers, vitamin C and other antioxidant compounds. The fruit includes a lot of potassium, which also helps circulation and regulates high blood pressure. By alleviating hypertension and reducing cholesterol in the blood, eating this fruit contributes to overall cardiac health.
A decoction prepared using the roots of cempedak has been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of diseases like asthma, stomach disorders, and fever or skin problems. The plant is known to kill viruses, bacteria and fungus, a very useful effect in the treatment of infections of the urinary tract. It has a positive effect on a number of conditions, such as high blood pressure, anxiety and arthritis. The combination of antioxidants in the cempedak fruit can improve the condition of the skin and maintain the health of its cells.
Malaria is one of the most dangerous diseases in the tropical areas where the tree grows. Eating the fruit in any form is said to cure malaria, probably due to the combination of vitamins with enzymes and bioactive components like bioflavonoid.
The fruit is also capable of killing various internal parasites. These are a serious menace in rainforest areas and can severely impair the function of body organs. In time, parasites cause many dangerous diseases.
Cempedak is also very good for digestion, like many other fruits. This is because of the content of soluble fibers and vitamin C, which regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation. The fruit also greatly reduces the risk of heart attack, due to a combination of essential vitamins and nutrients. Strokes are one of the worst health hazards of today's society. Cempedak is generally recommended in weight loss diets because it gives a sense of fullness after a meal, eliminating the need for small snacks in between.
The tree is a source of good quality wood. Since it is very strong, it serves in the construction of boats or in various home improvements. It can also be used to prepare a good quality yellow dye. The fibers in the bark are useful in manufacturing rope.
Cempedak is consumed in large quantities in its native range in Asia and it's starting to become popular in Australia as well. It is delicious if eaten raw but it can also be prepared in various ways. A popular street food in Malaysia is cempedak fried in oil, after soaking the pieces in batter. The seeds resemble the taste of water chestnuts and can be eaten raw after peeling but also roasted or boiled. Immature fruits can be eaten just like green vegetables.
A special dish is prepared in the island of Borneo from the skin of the fruit. It is called mandai or dami and is prepared after peeling the cempedak until it becomes white. It is then placed in a solution of salt, which can preserve it for a long time and makes the flesh tender. It can be stored for a month, or prepared after a few hours. Mandai is prepared by taking the fruit out of the brine and frying it.
For best results, the tree should be planted in direct sunlight. It can also grow in shade, but the rate of development will be a lot slower. It also requires constant moisture and irrigation is necessary in dry areas. It is completely absent in nature from regions that have a dry season. The minimum amount of annual rainfall required by the tree is about 1,250 mm.
While the tree likes moisture, it will die if the roots stay underwater for 4 hours or more. For this reason, cempedak requires very good drainage and will grow very well in sandy loam soils in particular.
For propagation, the seeds can be sowed directly into the ground. It is common to grow new plants in containers, then transfer them outside. It is also possible to propagate cempedak by budding or by grafting on rootstocks of other varieties of breadfruits.
When harvested unripe, the fruit can be eaten like a vegetable. Ripeness is estimated based on a series of factors, like the smoothness of the skin, variations if skin color or the stem turning yellow. However, it is also possible to just let the fruit fall off from the tree. In this case, it must be consumed quickly, in maximum 2 or 3 days.