What Is Jackfruit Anyway?
The trendiest new meat substitute is actually a fruit
For the last couple of months, one fruit has been conquering the hearts of vegetarians and vegans around the globe. Say hello to jackfruit, a huge, spiny skinned tropical fruit that has turned into one of the most popular meat subtitutes to hit the table since tempeh.
So, how did this happen? Let’s learn its rise to fame, where it comes from, how to get your hands on it, and, of course, what to do with it in the kitchen.
What Is Jackfruit?
Let’s keep it simple: A jackfruit is the fruit of the jackfruit tree. It grows in South and Southeast Asia, making it well-known and loved in countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. In these countries, it’s a part of everyday cooking and is more commonly used as an alternative side dish, made into candy or sweet syrups, or eaten on its own—pretty much anything other than a specific substitute for meat.
The fruit can get extremely heavy (up to 35kg/80lb) and large (up to 90cm/35in long), making it the largest tree-borne fruit on the planet. So you better watch where you lay and avoid the shade of a jackfruit tree when visiting South and Southeast Asia!
Where to Get Jackfruit
You’ll rarely find fresh jackfruit in your friendly neighborhood supermarket. You’ll most likely be able to hunt them down at Asian supermarkets, and you might luck out in the tropical fruit section of some organic markets. Look and ask around! Due to their popularity, they are becoming more widely available.
Finally found one? Only buy jackfruit with an intact spiky rind that gives slightly under pressure. The bigger the fruit, the better it tastes! If you find an unripe jackfruit, you can store it at room temperature for up to 10 days to let it ripen. Ripe yellow jackfruits are best stored in the fridge, and last for about a week.
Don’t worry if you can’t find any fresh jackfruit, they are also available canned, frozen, and even dried.
About Savory and Sweet Jackfruit
Another thing to keep in mind when buying jackfruit is that their level of ripeness correlates directly with their taste and best use. Regardless of whether you buy it fresh or canned, yellow jackfruits are ripe and taste intensely sweet—making them the perfect choice for desserts.
Young, white to pale green jackfruits are unripe and lack the sweetness of their yellow counterparts. These are the ones you should look out for when you plan to make a savory jackfruit dish—using it as a meat substitute or simply as a side.
More and more people are deciding to cut meat out of their diets at least partially, but the common soy- (tofu, tempeh, etc.) and gluten-based (seitan) substitutes aren’t that convincing and might not even be suitable for everyone.
But along comes jackfruit, a natural option with a remarkably similar texture to meat which, when unripe, tastes so mild that you can add flavor with nearly any sauce or marinade to suit your needs. On the health side, it’s also rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins B-6 and C, and is a good source for potassium, zinc, and magnesium.
However, it’s not all fun and games: Since the fruit is grown only in specific tropical areas, it nearly always has to be imported and flown in—losing points when it comes to the ecological benefit “gained“ by substituting it for meat.
What to Cook with Jackfruit
If you’re working with a fresh jackfruit, you’ll definitely need to know how to cut it! Better start by oiling your knife and cutting board for this since the jackfruit oozes an extremely sticky substance. After you halve it, it’s pretty easy to remove the seeds; just don’t throw them away! Similar in flavor to chestnuts, they can be eaten as a snack when roasted and salted. In India, the seeds are even processed into flour. After deseeding, you can easily remove the pulp with your hands, a spoon, or a knife.
Canned jackfruit is already cut, so all you have to do is drain and rinse the fruit. Blend ripe pieces into smoothies and sweet sauces to combine with sticky rice or drizzle over ice cream. You can even batter and deep-fry it! Use unripe canned jackfruit in currys, chutneys, or as a fried meat alternative for fricassée, sandwiches, burgers, tacos or wraps.
The possibilites are nearly endless, however, jackfruit really stands out as a plant-based alternative to pulled pork—the origin of the recent Western jackfruit hype. So, it’s about time you tried it out for yourself! Here’s how to prepare a pulled jackfruit sandwich:
Have you already cooked with jackfruit? Share your favorite recipe or upload a picture of your creations!
Published on February 24, 2018