Jackfruit is turning up in more grocery aisles and restaurant menus these days. Although I am occasionally skeptical of new food trends, this nutritious, tasty fruit looks like it’s here to stay in my pantry thanks to its versatility and affordable price.
WHAT EXACTLY IS JACKFRUIT?
If you’re not familiar with jackfruit, it’s a large fruit that’s thought to be indigenous to India, but today grows in many tropical regions such as Southeast Asia and Brazil.
Jackfruit has been used throughout Asia for hundreds of years as a meat alternative, but seems have only caught on in the United States in the past few years, thanks to an increase in companies packaging and distributing it.
Why? Vegans love it because it’s versatile, and takes on the flavor of whatever seasoning or ingredients you’re cooking it with. And it’s becoming more readily available in national grocery store chains!
WHAT IS THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF JACKFRUIT?
Many people are making sweeping statements about the possibility of jackfruit taking the culinary world by storm, and for good reasons. It’s relatively inexpensive, especially in comparison to meat—a can of organic jackfruit runs about $2.99 in my stores. Jackfruit is also versatile, and a good source of calcium, iron and potassium.
In my mind, the downside is the fact that jackfruit has very little protein (1 to 2 grams), so although I love using it occasionally in the kitchen, I wouldn’t choose it as a frequent main dish unless I was serving it alongside something else with a bit of protein such as beans or tofu.
WHAT DOES JACKFRUIT TASTE LIKE? DOES IT TASTE LIKE MEAT?
On its own jackfruit doesn’t at all taste like meat. In fact, I find that canned unripe jackfruit tastes a lot like artichokes, though its texture is more stringy.
That said, much like tofu, canned jackfruit actually takes on the flavor of whatever you season it with. This makes it incredibly versatile and a great vegan meat alternative.
What about fresh, ripe jackfruit? It’s much sweeter and tastes more like a mild mango. It’s great in desserts, ice cream, and smoothies.
WHERE CAN YOU BUY JACKFRUIT?
As the largest tree-born fruit in the world, mature jackfruit are estimated to weigh up to 90 pounds. Thankfully, if you head to the grocery store, you’ll likely find it canned or frozen, so you don’t have to deal with breaking it down yourself!
Look in the frozen food aisle for the sweet, ripe jackfruit to use in smoothies or sweet desserts and look in the canned food aisle for the unripe, green jackfruit—which you can think of as young green jackfruit. You’ll use this canned jackfruit in most savory recipes.
It is less likely that you’ll encounter fresh jackfruit in the produce section, but if you do, you can use it like any other fresh fruit.
Jackfruit is available at most Asian grocery stores, well-stocked grocery stores with a natural foods focus (such as Whole Foods), Trader Joe’s, or Amazon.
HOW TO COOK WITH CANNED JACKFRUIT
Thanks to it’s awesome stringy texture, unripe canned jackfruit is getting a lot of buzz for its use in vegan and vegetarian recipes, such as shredded BBQ tacos, sandwiches, and curries. In these kinds of recipes, jackfruit is strikingly similar to pulled pork or pulled chicken.
Since canned jackfruit is usually canned with a brine solution, give it a thorough rinse before using. Right out of the can, it’ll likely look like big chunks; shred them before using them in your recipe. (Some people prefer to shred after cooking it, but I find that if you’re working with a sauce, it’s easier to shred the jackfruit first.)
Some of the jackfruit pieces will have the firm core attached and that won’t shred; feel free to just leave it as is or give it a quick chop with your kitchen knife. The core is perfectly edible, and you won’t even notice it once it’s cooked with your other ingredients.
As for how to tell when it’s done cooking, you can actually just eat jackfruit raw out of the can if you’d like, so you won’t need to “cook” it, per se. But I think it’s best once it’s warmed up with some seasoning.
BEYOND PULLED “PORK”
If you start Googling jackfruit recipes, you’ll find plenty of recipes for pulled tacos and sandwiches–including our own Pulled Jackfruit Tacos! But there are plenty of other ways to cook with jackfruit.
You can also cook up jackfruit with Asian spices or sauces and add them as part of a stir-fry. Jackfruit also makes a nice addition to a quick weeknight curry.
We’ve added it to fried rice at home, and also folded it into slow cooker chili and stew. In the spring and summer, it’s great cooked with your favorite sauce or seasoning, and works well when added to salads, grain bowls or used as a filling for simple wraps.