Jackfruit was featured in my local grocer’s most recent flyer. I’d always wanted to try it but had been a little intimidated by its appearance. I wasn’t sure how exactly to prepare it or even what parts of it to use. They had small slices at the store, so I bought one, brought it home and consulted Google to figure out what to do with it. Here’s what I learned.
Why Jackfruit is Gaining In Popularity
Jackfruit is native to southeast Asia and has a long history there. As the interest in plant-based eating has grown in Western countries, so has the popularity of jackfruit. It is a common sight on the menus of vegan restaurants and is sold, prepared and raw, in many grocery stores.
Like many deep-coloured fruits, it is nutritionally dense, although its use as a meat substitute in recipes is misleading in terms of its protein. It is higher in protein than some other fruits but is not a high source of protein in its own right. Jackfruit’s reputation as a meat replacement owes more to its texture than its protein–once cooked, it can be shredded for tacos or pulled “pork.”
Jackfruit is an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium, and a good source of vitamin A, magnesium, manganese and copper. It also contains good amounts of some B vitamins. Interestingly, the nutrient density can vary, depending on the age of the fruit. (If you want a deep dive into that topic, you can read this NIH article.)
According to an article in The Guardian, jackfruit is very hardy and well suited for growing in a changing climate, being able to withstand drought, pests and disease.
One challenge to wider uptake of the fruit, also noted in The Guardian article, is that processing can be “offputting.” I would agree to some extent, but if you know what you are getting into and are using small amounts for home use, it is manageable, just be sure to start small because…
Jackfruits Are Huge
Unless you are feeding a lot of people, you probably want to limit yourself to a small slice or two from your produce department. I was shocked at the size of whole jackfruit at the store–they’re bigger than an American football. I learned later that jackfruit is the largest tree-grown fruit in the world; a ripe one can weigh up to 18 kg (40 pounds).
A single slice can go a long way. The slice I bought weighed 630g (just under 1.5 pounds) and made enough filling for three good-sized sandwiches.
One thing noted consistently and fairly urgently in the various recipes I consulted was to beware of jackfruit sap. Some referred to it as “latex sap” and noted that it can damage knives and countertops if precautions are not taken. The advice: oil your knife thoroughly and keep it oiled to avoid direct contact between the metal and the sap.
I cut my slice on a plastic cutting board which washed up well, but there were a couple of sticky spots on my knife that were very hard to remove even though I had oiled it. Bottom line: do not skip the step of oiling your knife. And wear gloves too unless you want the sticky stuff all over your hands. Apparently riper jackfruit is somewhat less sticky, FYI. (For more on the sap, read this woman’s experience processing a whole jackfruit.)
Pay Attention to the Colour
Like many fruits, jackfruit tastes sweeter the longer it ripens. For savoury dishes, it is best to choose jackfruit slices that are paler in colour or use canned. If the seed pods–the deep yellow sections surrounding the seeds in the image below–get too dark in colour, the taste will veer sweeter and may not work as a meat replacement.
Having failed to consult Google before going to the store, I learned only when I cut into mine that it was on the sweeter side. My first clue was the smell–slicing into a seed pod released a smell reminiscent of mango. Tasting it revealed a taste and texture similar to mango as well. The sweeter fruit can be used in a dessert or eaten raw. I wanted to use mine in a main course, so I looked for barbecue-based recipes that called for sugar. I settled on this Vegan Pulled Jackfruit from AlphaFoodie but omitted the sugar because I knew my jackfruit was fairly sweet. It turned out well, if still a little sweet.
Use It All
I was surprised to find that pretty much all of the jackfruit is usable. The rind has to be composted, but in a savoury dish, you can use the seed pods and fibrous pulp. The seeds, which you remove to get to the pods, can also be roasted or boiled. I roasted mine, following this recipe. The texture was, as noted, something like a chestnut. It wasn’t my favourite thing ever, but apparently boiled seeds can be made into hummus. I didn’t try this but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work.
The 630g piece of jackfruit I bought cost just $3.18. Transforming it into a sandwich filling took very little in the way of ingredients, just half an onion, a few seasonings, and a bit of vegetable broth and barbecue sauce. So for less than $4.00 I had sandwich filling for three people.
Jackfruit takes on the flavours you add to it which is why it is popular in recipes that use lots of seasoning and strongly flavoured sauces like pulled “meat,” taco filling and curries. I served my pulled jackfruit on a wholegrain bun with Alabama White Sauce and a side of coleslaw. It was very good and has inspired me to cook with jackfruit more often. My next attempt with be this recipe for crispy carnitas which sounds delicious.