Everything You Need to Know About Jackfruit

From what jackfruit tastes like to how to eat it, here's what to know

Plant-based eating has never been hotter, which is why you’ve probably encountered some foods you don’t know. Jackfruit, a popular meat alternative because of its meaty texture, is a classic example.

Unless you grew up in a part of Asia where this is a daily staple or happen to follow a vegan diet, jackfruit may indeed be the most foreign food you’ve ever seen. Yet while it may sound and look strange, jackfruit can be an integral part of a healthy eating plan, especially if your goal is to move toward a more plant-based diet. Here’s what this fruit actually is, what it tastes like, and how to add it to your diet. let the plant-based cooking begin!

What is Jackfruit?

A tropical fruit native to India, jackfruit is the world’s largest tree-born fruit. A single jackfruit can weigh over 100 pounds, and a mature jackfruit tree can produce two to three tons of fruit per year, says Annie Ryu, CEO and founder of The Jackfruit Company in Boulder, Colorado.

What Does Jackfruit Taste Like?

As strange as this fruit looks—when you get to the inside, its texture looks like shredded meat—ripe jackfruit has a surprisingly sweet flavor like a combination of mango, pineapple and banana, or in other words, exactly like Juicy Fruit gum. “The flavor of that gum is rumored to have been modeled after the flavor of ripe jackfruit,” says Ryu, who was introduced to jackfruit when she was a pre-med student on a medical student mission in India. She was served a jackfruit burger—“it’s still one of my favorite ways to have jackfruit,” she says—and it blew her mind.

Ryu was so intrigued by the fruit, in fact, that after learning that the majority of jackfruit grown in India went to waste instead of fulfilling its potential, she eventually went on to found The Jackfruit Company. Today, the company works with more than 1,000 farming families in southern India to source organically grown jackfruit to bring to the U.S. market.

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What are the Nutritional Benefits of Jackfruit?

Like all plants, jackfruit is loaded with nutritional benefits, especially in terms of fiber. “Young jackfruit has two to three times the amount of fiber as other typical sources of fiber (like grains, other fruits, vegetables and nuts), one of the most critical nutrients that American consumers most lack,” Ryu says. One cup of jackfruit contains about three grams of fiber. Here’s why that’s key.

Guidelines call for a daily fiber intake of at least 25 grams if you’re a woman under age 50; 38 grams if you’re a man in that same age bracket, says Jessica Spiro, RD, plant-based dietitian and nutritionist in San Diego, California. Trouble is, most Americans are getting a scant 16 grams a day, and only a small percentage of the population, five percent to be exact, is meeting recommended guidelines, according to a study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Yet fiber is crucial for health, as it’s been associated with a reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, obesity and more.

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Jackfruit also contains its fair share of protein. “While it’s not as high as more commonly consumed meat alternatives like tofu, beans or seitan, it is higher in protein than most other fruits,” Spiro says. One cup of jackfruit contains two to three grams of protein. It also contains other vitamins like A, C and riboflavin and minerals like magnesium and potassium.

Bonus? Unlike meat, jackfruit is naturally free of saturated fat and cholesterol, even sugar and sodium, and is low in calories. One cup contains just about 150 calories. Even when compared to other meat alternatives in the plant-based market, jackfruit has an edge. “It’s the one food that’s just a plant as opposed to a highly processed food made from plant isolates,” Ryu says.

How to Eat Jackfruit

One reason jackfruit has become so popular is because of its versatility, especially as a replacement for meat, pulled pork being its most common use. “The texture is just what you want for plant-based variations of dishes typically made with a pulled meat, and I love how well it carries the flavor of a marinade or sauce,” says Chef Katie Mae, M.S., culinary coach and founder of The Culinary Gym in Santa Rosa, Calif. Even better, you can use it for any part of the meal, from appetizers all the way to desserts.

Jackfruit can be eaten either unripened or ripened. Because it’s not as sweet, the unripened version is best for using as a meat substitute and goes well in tacos, pulled jackfruit sandwiches, curry dishes and almost anything you can think of. “With its fairly neutral taste, it takes on the flavor of sauces or spices you’re using,” Spiro says. Meanwhile, the ripened version tends to be sweeter, which is why it’s typically better for desserts. Many people like Mae enjoy eating the ripe jackfruit by itself. “I can really cherish its flavor then,” she says.

Where to Buy Jackfruit

While specialty and Asian stores might be the first place you look for jackfruit, you can also find it in grocery stores. You can buy ready-to-eat jackfruit in three forms: Frozen, canned or vacuum-sealed. Mae recommends frozen ripe jackfruit for making smoothies and jackfruit ice cream. Vacuum-sealed jackfruit comes pre-seasoned, which is convenient but may add processed ingredients, she says, adding that you should check ingredients and choose the one with the least amount of processed ingredients. Check the sodium and added sugar, too, and opt for ones with the least amount.

Companies like The Jackfruit Company and Upton’s Natural are two long-time favorites in this department. You can also buy canned jackfruit, but if you’re going for savory dishes, purchase young canned jackfruit. The one caveat? “Make sure it’s packaged in a brine, not syrup which makes it too sweet,” Mae says.

You can even buy fresh jackfruit, although it’s tougher to find. If you do locate a store selling the fruit fresh, check the color, aroma, and firmness, Mae says. If you want a ripe jackfruit, look for one that has more of a yellowish-golden versus green color. Then smell it to see if it has a sweet odor. If it does, apply slight pressure to see if has a bit of give, much like you do with peaches or avocados. If it has extremely soft patches, it’s probably too ripe. Looking for young jackfruit? The fruit should be green with no aroma and no give when you apply pressure.

Then heed Mae’s warning: “Don’t use your favorite or your best knife to process jackfruit.” The natural latex in jackfruit makes it incredibly sticky and difficult to remove from your knife and hands. Coconut oil can help with the clean-up, but you’re better off starting with a knife you could throw away if necessary.

No matter how you buy it, get creative when deciding how to cook your jackfruit. “I’m constantly surprised by how perfect a fit it is in almost any recipe I’m making,” Ryu says, adding that she’s used it in curry and Indian dishes and recipes that have influences from Italy and Mexico.

Once you start experimenting with jackfruit at home, you’ll find that it has so many uses that it’ll no doubt become a staple in your diet. Who knows? In the end, you may find that moving to a plant-based diet is easier than you thought.

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  • Annie Ryu, CEO and founder of The Jackfruit Company in Boulder, Colorado

  • Jessica Spiro, RD, plant-based dietitian and nutritionist in San Diego, California