What Is Jackfruit? Here's What You Should Know
Ever been at a grocery store or vegan restaurant and wondered, “What is jackfruit?” Here’s information on jackfruit taste, how to eat jackfruit, jackfruit benefits, and more.
A fruit that tastes like pulled pork... that’s also good for you? While the concept sounds like it was cooked up in a laboratory (or imagined by Margaret Atwood), such a fruit exists, and it’s made by Mother Nature herself. Here, we have all the details on what jackfruit is, the best ways to prep it, and how and where to find it.
What Is Jackfruit?
Jackfruit (or jakfruit) comes from the jackfruit tree, a cousin of the fig tree, mulberry tree, and breadfruit family that grows in Southeast Asia. The jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh, and looks like an oblong honeydew melon or large mango. The word “jackfruit” comes from the Portuguese word jaca, which 16th-century explorers derived from their pronunciation of the Malaysian name for the fruit, chakka. Today, although it's still exclusively grown in Southeast Asia, jackfruit is enjoyed around the world—on its own, and in raw or cooked recipes.
Some people confuse the jackfruit with the durian fruit, which looks similar, but there is a large difference. Durian has a strong odor that may not be pleasant to everyone; jackfruit smells sweet, like fruit. Durian fruits are also much smaller than jackfruit; and the outside of a durian may have spiky “thorns,” while a jackfruit has smooth bumps on its surface.
What Does Jackfruit Taste Like?
Before you take a bite, it’s helpful to know what to expect. The jackfruit texture is not dissimilar to a banana, mango, or pineapple in terms of being dense and fibrous. But the taste is quite distinctive. Some say it’s sweet, and some say a jackfruit has a flavor similar to pulled pork, especially when cooked. The seeds of a jackfruit are edible, and some compare their taste, which is milky and gummy, to that of a Brazil nut. The inner meat of a jackfruit has a yellow, mango-like color, and jackfruit may be sold pre-sliced, or canned and in a sugary syrup.
Not only can eating jackfruit provide an exotic treat for your tastebuds, but jackfruit packs a powerful nutrition punch. Besides containing the typical mix of vitamins and minerals you'd find in most any fruit, jackfruit is a great source of magnesium, vitamin B6, and antioxidants.
Because it has a meaty texture when cooked, it’s a good swap for certain meat-based recipes, although it’s important to note that jackfruit doesn’t have a particularly high protein content, so you may still need a protein source if planning a main course anchored around a jackfruit recipe.
When eaten regularly as part of a varied diet, the vitamins and minerals in jackfruit can help enhance immunity, may contain antioxidants that can help fight cancer, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, aid in osteoporosis prevention, and improve digestion. It can also be a low-carb, vegan meat substitute for sweet or savory dishes.
Where to Buy Jackfruit
While jackfruit has long been plentiful throughout Southeast Asia, it used to be tricky to find in the Western world. Not so much anymore. As more and more recipes call for jackfruit, and more and more people are aware of the health benefits of jackfruit, it has become easier to source in the United States. Check your local grocery store; they may be able to get it for you if it's not in the produce aisle already. Here are some places to look for jackfruit—either whole or in jackfruit-derived food products, including dried jackfruit, jackfruit “pulled pork,” jackfruit seeds, and canned jackfruit.
How to Eat Jackfruit
However you want to! Many people eat it raw, and some people like to cook jackfruit and use it as a side dish, in salsas, or as part of a salad. Jackfruit can also be a filling, healthy snack thanks to its fiber content.
Jackfruit releases a sticky sap, so experts recommend oiling your knife and work surface prior to cutting a jackfruit. Cut a jackfruit as you would a pineapple: slice it open and core the interior. It’s best to pull the jackfruit meat away from the rind of the jackfruit with your hands or an oiled spoon; it should pull apart easily when tugged. Raw jackfruit can be thrown into smoothies, mixed with yogurt, or added as a sweet topping to ice cream. Cooked jackfruit can be made into burger-like patties, added to tacos or salad, or even can be made into a pulled-pork-like dish, and eaten alone or on sandwiches. Consider using jackfruit in similar ways you'd use chicken to come up with some ideas of recipes that may work for you and your family.
But remember, because it’s low in protein, adding a protein source (like beans) is helpful to make a jackfruit meal a complete, balanced meal. For example, jackfruit tacos, with cooked jackfruit and black beans, can be a delicious meat-free meal, and jackfruit can be added to many vegetarian recipes. Jackfruit BBQ is particular popular. To make jackfruit like pulled pork, use canned jackfruit (in water or brine, not syrup) or slightly unripe fresh jackfruit, and cut or pull to a shredded consistency. Marinate in your favorite barbecue sauce for at least an hour, then sauté on the stove for about thirty minutes, stirring frequently before serving as you would traditional pulled pork, either on a bun or on its own.