Irwin L. Jacobs, the maverick Minneapolis investor, is heading a group that has acquired a 12 percent stake in Castle & Cooke Inc. -- a financially troubled food and real estate company that is based in Honolulu.

Jacobs has made plays for such diverse companies as Pabst Brewing Co., Kaiser Steel Corp., Avco Corp. and Walt Disney Productions before selling his holdings at a profit.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday, the Jacobs-led group said that it had acquired nearly 3.1 million shares in Castle & Cooke and was considering seeking control of the company. Castle & Cooke markets Dole bananas and pineapple and Bumble Bee brand tuna.

But the group said it also might try to find a third party to join with it in seeking control of the company or that it may decide to sell some or all of the shares they acquired.

But the group said that it would not sell its shares back to the company -- a tactic called greenmail, in which an investor buys a stake in a company, threatens a takeover, then sells its interest back to the target at a profit.

In his recent forays -- Pabst, Kaiser Steel, Disney and Avco -- Jacobs made profits either by selling stock back to the company or to other investors.

But Jacobs denied that he was a corporate raider in a Washington Post interview last month. Jacobs said that he does not begin buying stock in a company merely to be bought out at a profit. In every case in which he threatened management with a takeover, Jacobs said, he had had the financial resources to put together the deal.

Castle & Cooke has fallen on hard times in recent years. Ian R. Wilson, the Coco-Cola Co. executive who joined Castle and Cooke as president in February 1983, resigned last month shortly after the company announced it would lose $35 million in its accounting quarter that ended Dec. 29. In its last fiscal year, which ended June 16, the Honolulu company reported a loss of $77 million on revenues of $1.5 billion.

Early this month the company said it had agreed to sell most of the assets of Bumble Bee Seafoods to a group of investors that included four top Bumble Bee executives.