What is Jackfruit?
Jackfruit is a strange looking fruit. It is large, growing as large as 100 pounds in some cases, and covered in a thick, green skin that appears almost prickly. This relative of the fig is the largest fruit to grow on trees. When fully ripe, the fruit has an almost rancid smell that some have described as rotting onions. The fruit tastes like a combination of pineapple and bananas when ripe, with a bland, potato-like flavor when unripe.
This unripe fruit it where the real magic happens. The fruit can be cooked, at which point it will become the texture of pulled pork. This has made jackfruit an increasingly popular meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians. One of the most popular dishes circulating in the vegan and vegetarian circles using jackfruit is barbecue pulled ‘pork.’ The unripe jackfruit is able to absorb just about any flavor, and along with its meaty texture, it will have even meat eaters shocked that what they are eating is actually a fruit.
The fruit is thought to have been cultivated for the first time as many as 6,000 years ago in India. However, in modern India, as much as 80% of the jackfruit crop goes to waste. This is likely because jackfruit does not last for very long once it is ripe and because it is so widely available throughout the country, many people see it as a poor man’s food. It is, however, becoming increasingly popular in curry dishes as a meat substitute, as a large percentage of the population in India is vegetarian. In places like Bangladesh, where it is the national fruit, it is widely consumed and second only to mangoes.
There are many entrepreneurs now looking to jackfruit not only as a business opportunity but also a way to help lessen the burden of world hunger and poverty. Jackfruit is a great crop to grow for many reasons, the first of which being that it can supply more than just fruit. Jackfruit contains a latex, in the leaves and the fruit, that can be used as caulk, adhesive, and even as a varnish. This latex covers just about every part of the fruit, so take care to cover your surfaces and hands before breaking into the fruit. It is also a good idea to coat your hands and the knife with cooking oil to prevent too much sticking.
The bark of the jackfruit tree has been used for hundreds of years as a clothing dye, especially by Buddhist monks who use it to dye their robes. When clothing is dyed with jackfruit bark, it turns a golden yellow or orange color.
The fruit of the tree contains hundreds, sometimes as many as 500, seeds. These seeds are high in calcium, protein, potassium, and iron. When they are dried and ground they can be used as a nutrient-rich flour. These seeds can also be boiled and peeled, enjoyed as a potato-like snack.
The wood from jackfruit trees is popular in many parts of the world, likely for its striking color. It can range from a yellow to dark red depending on the age of the tree. In addition, jackwood is not susceptible to many of the issue that plagues other woods, such as fungus and termites. This makes it a great choice for furniture builders and carpenters alike.1
These entrepreneurs are coming to the tropical and subtropical climates where jackfruit grows and promoting the cultivation of jackfruit trees. No only do they offer many products from one tree, but they are also easier to maintain than traditional low-cost food crops such as corn since the jackfruit tree does not need to be planted year after year.
These companies are motivating residents to plant jackfruit trees and collect their fruit. It is then processed and packaged, to be sold in their home countries and abroad. It is not just used as a meat substitute, jackfruit can be used in everything from ice cream to chips.
This versatility and the fruit’s ability to absorb a variety of flavors have turned it into a product that can be found on grocery store shelves across the world. To find it whole and fresh in the U.S you should look at Asian grocery stores (though with it’s increasing popularity it is showing up in mainstream grocery stores as well), but increasing numbers of grocery stores are now stocking canned or packaged jackfruit. In cans it is packed in either brine or syrup, if you are using it for a meat substitute it is best to choose the water-packed variety. The syrup packed jackfruit is sweet and best enjoyed as part of a dessert.
Companies such as Upton’s Naturals and The Jackfruit Company sell cooked, seasoned jackfruit in a variety of flavors. Upton’s, a Chicago-based vegan food brand, offers flavors such as Chili Lime Carnitas, Bar-B-Que, Thai Curry, and Original. While The Jackfruit Company offers BBQ, Tex-Mex, Teriyaki, and Curry varieties.
Jackfruit is fairly low in calories and provides a high dose of vitamins C and B6 as well as fiber. While it does not provide a lot of protein, it’s versatility makes it easy to combine with other protein-rich foods for a complete and filling vegetarian meal.
With its increasing popularity and availability, jackfruit is likely to start popping up in more and more kitchens all over the world in the coming years. Whether you buy it canned to enjoy as a meat substitute or break down the large, fresh fruit yourself for a snack or dessert addition, there are so many great ways to use jackfruit.
1. Stephenson, Emily. "Behind Jackfruit's Rise from South Asian Staple to Vegan Trend." Eater. Vox MEdia, 17 May 2016. Web.
2. Morton, Julia F. " Fruits of Warm Climates - Jackfruit." NewCROP. Perdue University - Center for New Crops & Plant Products, 1987. Web.