Jackfruit has lately been enjoying some well-deserved attention as a plant-based alternative to meat. A common ingredient in its native Southeast Asia, jackfruit is quickly becoming a favourite ingredient of vegan chefs and food bloggers alike (check the hashtag #jackfruit and see for yourself!) Thanks to jackfruits’ massive size and relative obscurity, preparing this tropical fruit at home was once a daunting culinary prospect for home cooks. Luckily for modern-day foodies, it’s now fairly easy to find both canned and frozen jackfruit to make for easier cleanup and speedier preparation. As the potential benefits of eating a plant-based diet become increasingly clear and the need for environmentally sustainable crops become more urgent, jackfruit may just be the food that can tick all of these important boxes (while also being downright delicious.)
What is jackfruit?
Jackfruit trees are enormous trees native to several countries in Southeast Asian (including India, Bangladesh, and Thailand.) Jackfruit trees produce the largest fruit in the world, with some specimens reaching up to 34 kilograms. At first glance, jackfruit resembles durian, minus the infamously bad smell and spiky exterior. In regions where jackfruit is grown locally and available year-round, the flesh of the ripe fruit is renowned for its sweet flavour, its taste is often compared to a cross between mango, pineapple, and banana. Unripe, or “green” jackfruit, must be cooked down until it softens at which point it can be seasoned and used as an ingredient in savoury recipes. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a Southeast Asian grocery store with a well-stocked produce section (and you’re up for a physically demanding culinary challenge) you may be able to find a whole jackfruit to dismantle. Otherwise, look in the international pantry and freezer aisle of your local grocery store for canned, frozen, and even freeze-dried versions of green jackfruit.
In terms of environmental impact, the jackfruit trees’ sheer size is not its only means of resilience as a crop; its resistance to fungal infection and disease and ability to grow in drought-ridden areas of the world makes it a potentially vital food for a world faced with a rapidly growing population and rising global temperatures.
The nutritional benefits of jackfruit
Jackfruit offers a wide variety of nutritional benefits and as a member of the fruit family jackfruit also belongs on our zero Points® foods list. Jackfruit is fat and cholesterol-free, rich in vitamins C and E, and an excellent source of manganese, potassium, and dietary fibre (jackfruit can actually have a laxative effect thanks to its high fibre content, so begin with small amounts if this is a new ingredient in your kitchen.) Jackfruit is very low in protein so make sure you serve it with higher-protein plant-based ingredients such as lentils, chickpeas, tofu, legumes, and quinoa.
Using jackfruit as an alternative to meat
Before fresh jackfruit can be used it needs to be cooked for upwards of 45 minutes (this time can be greatly reduced if using a pressure cooker.) It’s strongly recommended that home cooks use canned and frozen jackfruit instead of fresh, and this type of jackfruit can be cooked directly in the sauce specified in the recipe. To serve, use two forks and gently pull the jackfruit apart until the desired texture is reached.
- Make pulled “pork” sandwiches using your favourite store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce. Pair the pulled jackfruit with traditional pulled pork sandwich ingredients like chopped pickles, coleslaw, and a thin slice of regular or non-dairy cheese.
- For an easy weeknight dinner make jackfruit Sloppy Joes! Use a recipe for traditional Sloppy Joe sauce, substituting jackfruit for the traditional ground meat. Pile a generous scoop of jackfruit Sloppy Joe mix on soft sesame-sprinkled rolls and top with pickled red onion and jalapeño slices.
- Next time you’re jonesing for vegetarian tacos try cooking canned or frozen jackfruit in a mixture of salsa, taco spices, and a small amount of vegetable stock. Garnish the tacos with all your favourite classic ingredients, adding a dollop of refried beans and plain yogurt for extra protein. For an extra-quick dinner have any family or friends you have on hand help with the sides (guacamole, pico de gallo, heating the tortillas, etc.) and allow everyone to serve themselves.