What Is Jackfruit?

When it comes to plant-based meat, jackfruit is unique! This healthy fruit can go from replacing pulled pork to starring in a smoothie. So if you're thinking, "What is jackfruit?" or "How do I cook it?", read on.

If you’ve been searching for a healthy vegetarian substitute for meat that isn’t the usual soy or wheat gluten products (like tofu or seitan), you may have just found your perfect match. Jackfruit is the rare fruit that effortlessly doubles as a hearty meat substitute. It’s rich in fiber and nutrients while providing that meaty texture you crave.

What Is Jackfruit?

Jackfruit is an ancient fruit grown on trees in tropical climates. It’s native to south and southeast Asia—think Bangladesh, Thailand and India—where it is served regularly. While it’s relatively new on the scene in North America, jackfruit has been used for hundreds of years as both food and medicine. It’s believed to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties, as well as being rich in antioxidants.

Jackfruit has thick, bumpy skin and is filled with plump, stringy pods. When ripe, these pods have a sweet banana-like quality. However, when used for savory dishes, the fruit is typically underripe and a bit more firm, giving it a meatier texture.

Jackfruit is rich in vitamins and fiber. A 100-gram portion of jackfruit contains 95 calories, 2 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the combination of potassium, fiber and antioxidants in jackfruit can benefit heart health, as well as decrease inflammation in the body.

It’s helpful to remember that while jackfruit has the same consistency as meat, the nutrient profiles are quite different. Like all fruit, jackfruit is relatively low in protein (just 2 grams in a serving) so it won’t fill you up the same way other meatier dishes will—to compare, one serving of a pulled pork sandwich packs 28 grams of protein. The protein content of jackfruit is lower than other meat alternatives too. A serving of tofu has about 7 grams, while a bean burger loads up with 12 grams.

What Does Jackfruit Taste Like?

When it comes to flavor, underripe jackfruit is very mild. Its neutral flavor typically pairs well with more savory dishes—it’s often used as a substitute for pulled pork or chicken. Once chopped or shredded, the starchy fruit is ready for flavorful sauces or marinades. While jackfruit does have a hearty taste and a firm texture, and easily soaks up flavor from sauces, it’s not going to fool anyone into thinking it’s meat.

Ripe jackfruit, on the other hand, has a sweet flavor. The taste is similar to other tropical fruits like mango or pineapple and makes a great addition to smoothies.

How to Prepare Jackfruit

The easiest way to prepare jackfruit is to buy it already prepared! However, if you’re feeling ambitious and are able to find fresh jackfruit, roll up your sleeves and go for it. Start by cutting the jackfruit in half and removing the pods and seeds with your hands. The pods of the jackfruit can be eaten raw or cooked. Try pan-frying them or tossing them in the slow cooker with a tangy sauce. The inside of jackfruit can get pretty sticky, so gloves may be helpful.

If you opt for prepared jackfruit, it will most likely come in a can or pouch. Most canned types are packed in salty water, so give it a good rinse to cut down on the sodium content. If it’s already seasoned, then all you need to do is throw it in a pan over medium heat to warm and enjoy. Canned jackfruit can be heated up and then tossed with any savory flavors like barbecue sauce or fresh salsa.

How Do You Use Jackfruit?

Unripe jackfruit can be used just about anywhere you’d use chopped meat. Try adding it to tacos, sandwiches, burritos, omelets and stir-fries for a start. Seasoned jackfruit is great in soups, stews and chilis. Try serving it at your next get-together with taco seasoning, corn tortillas, a light slaw and a few lime wedges. Once you start incorporating more jackfruit recipes into your routine, you may not be able to stop!

Where to Buy Jackfruit

When buying jackfruit, stick to the canned aisle of the grocery store rather than the produce section. (Add jackfruit to your plant-based grocery list.) Fresh jackfruit is hard to come by in the United States and is usually found in Asian markets and specialty stores. This heavy fruit can weigh up to 40 pounds, and the thick rind is often difficult to remove.

Fortunately, many health food stores and grocery stores sell prepared jackfruit that has already been peeled and cut. It may come in a can or pouch, often prepared with seasonings and sauces. The pouches are usually found in the refrigerated section near the other meat substitutes. A pouch of Upton’s Naturals, one of our favorite vegetarian brands, costs about $5 and serves four.

Oh, and odd as it sounds, skip the jackfruit dishes if you have an allergy to latex or birch pollen. These allergies can have a cross-reaction with jackfruit, so it’s just not worth the risk.

So if you’re ready to get a little adventurous in the kitchen, grab your favorite sauce and get sizzling. You might just find yourself craving this healthy, easy-prep meal more often than you think!

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Carrie Madormo, RN
Now a freelance health and food writer, Carrie worked as a nurse for over a decade. When she isn't hunched over her laptop with a baby in hand, you will find her cooking her grandmother’s recipes, lacing up her running shoes or sipping coffee in the bathroom to hide from her three young children.