Take a walk down the produce aisle and you may spot a light green, oval-shaped, nubby fruit. While every fruit is distinctive, this one in particular is hard to ignore. The jackfruit, which is native to southeast Asia as well as parts of India, Jamaica, and South America, is fast becoming a popular meat substitute in vegan diets and vegetarian meals. From pulled “pork” sandwiches to desserts, jackfruit has proven to be a versatile plant that both meat-eaters and non-meat eaters alike can appreciate. Here’s what you need to know about this trendy tropical fruit—and find out other exotic fruits you need to add to your diet, too.
What is jackfruit?
Jackfruit is “a medium-sized fruit with small bumps on it…that can be eaten cooked or raw,” Jamie Hickey, a nutritionist, personal trainer, and founder of Truism Fitness, told Reader’s Digest. It grows on jack trees, which are indigenous to southeast Asia and are related to other trees like fig and mulberry.
What does jackfruit taste like?
Jackfruit doesn’t have an overwhelmingly strong taste. It’s been described as “sweet” or “neutral,” but it’s more the texture that’s distinctive. “Since it has a meaty texture when cooked, it makes for an ideal swap for certain meat-based recipes,” Hickey says. The texture is comparable to shredded meat, pulled pork in particular, which is why pulled “pork” sandwiches are one of the most popular jackfruit recipes. Learn how another trendy meat substitute, the Impossible Burger, compares.
But, while its use as a substitute for pulled pork or taco meat is its most popular, don’t let that limit how you eat it. Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, an advisor for Smart Healthy Living, adds that “jackfruit tends to soak up whatever flavoring is added to it,” so go ahead and try out all sorts of different flavors. Add some umami, cajun seasoning, taco seasoning…the list goes on.
Is jackfruit healthy?
Jackfruits pack in a lot of nutrition. They’re high in protein (with 2.8 grams per cup of sliced fruit), plus calcium, magnesium, vitamin A, and potassium. They’re also rich in energy and dietary fiber and free from saturated fats or cholesterol. In some regions, jackfruits have even been used to treat conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, diarrhea, tuberculosis, fever, and liver cirrhosis.
Its meaty texture and health content make it seem like a surefire replacement for meat. But, while its texture can mimic meat, nutritionists do advise against substituting it for meat entirely. “When compared to other fruit, jackfruit is higher in protein; however, when compared to meat, it is low in protein,” explains Miller. It unfortunately lacks some of the amino acids present in meat. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you know that it can be a challenge to get adequate protein. Consider eating jackfruits in conjunction with these other great sources of plant-based protein to meet your daily quota for good health.
Where to buy jackfruit
Jackfruit used to be pretty rare in Western grocery stores, but as it has gained popularity and demand has grown, more and more grocery stores are stocking it. “The best places to find jackfruit would be Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Amazon, Thrivemarket, and Asian specialty markets,” says Hickey.
While shopping, you may see two seemingly different types of jackfruit, but it’s the same fruit—only one is mature and the other is young. The young jackfruit is sweet and crunchy, and the older version is usually softer and tastes less sweet. You may also find young jackfruit is sold in cans. Vegan chef and owner of Community Cafe in St. Petersburg Florida, Mandy Keyes, suggests opting for the younger version if you plan on cooking savory meals. “We found that young jackfruit in a can is much easier to work with,” she says. However, Miller reminds would-be jackfruit shoppers that “sometimes it is canned in brine or syrup, so make sure you buy a product that is correct for the dish you want to make—and in line with a healthy diet.” Unfortunately, sweet syrup can seriously counteract the nutrition content of fruit.
Once you’ve got your hands on some jackfruit, it’s time to try out these tasty jackfruit recipes, from flatbread to pot pie.