Many of the people who’ve started eating a plant-based diet keep talking about how great the jackfruit is as a meat stand-in. Plenty of the other people who’ve gone plant-based are asking, “what the heck is jackfruit?”
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit that grows right next to the trunks of its trees and looks like a basketball-sized wart. But don’t let this deter you. When it’s ripe, the inside yields sections that have a slightly sweet, juicy tropical flavor. Some call it a mix between pineapple, mango and banana. Others say it’s what the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum tried to mimic. It's perfect for eating just like any other fruit. The unripe kind, on the other hand, is perfect for using in meals.
How jackfruit grows.
Mahfooz C C / EyeEmGetty Images
It’s often considered a “meat substitute,” because of the meaty texture it adds to a main course, not due to its flavor or nutritional content. That’s not to say it’s not nutritious; it has a lot of virtues. A cup of uncooked jackfruit contains 155 calories, 2.6 g fiber, as well as decent amounts of potassium (500 mg) and some magnesium (61 mg). Its protein—2.4 g—isn’t what you’d get from meat or beans, but that shouldn’t hold you back.
Here’s how to handle this mammoth fruit:
Where to Use Unripe Jackfruit
“Jackfruit is more of a texture than a flavor,” says Sidra Forman, Washington-based chef and co-author of The Pescetarian Plan.
“It’s very versatile in that it picks up seasoning very well, and can easily be replaced for ground meat, pulled meat, or shredded chicken in most recipes,” she says. “And it can be pan-roasted, baked, or grilled.”
It goes well with curry, Asian aromatic spices, lime and chili, even simple olive oil, salt, and pepper, she explains. “As a whole, plant-based food, jackfruit is unique. You might be able to get a similar result with seitan, tempeh, or a soy product, but none of those are single-ingredient whole foods,” Forman says.
Since it’s not very high in protein, you might want to pair it with something that is. “In a stir fry, you might add some crumbled tofu, or you can use jackfruit as a topping over a high-protein bean pasta.”
Where to Get Jackfruit
The explosion in interest in this humble fruit means you can now find it in prepared meals—The Jackfruit Company sells heat-and-eat meals with jackfruit in flavors like red kidney beans, jackfruit, tomato and rustic herbs. Trader Joe’s has a jackfruit curry meal.
But if you want plain, unripe jackfruit for your cooking project, you’re most likely going to get it frozen or sometimes canned (just make sure you’re getting the savory kind, not the sweet, ripened kind). In the US, if you see jackfruit in the produce aisle, it’s usually the ripe fruit that you’d eat right out of the package or use in a dessert.
Ripe jackfruit, ready for eating.
If you do encounter a whole unripe jackfruit, be aware that it’s kind of a project to hack up. It’s not easy to slick into and has a resin that sticks to your knife and reportedly stains what it touches. Ripe jackfruit in produce sections is usually pre-cut and just the tender insides are packaged up for you, ready for snacking.
Marty MunsonMarty Munson, currently the health director of Men's Health, previously served as deputy editor at Dr Oz The Good Life and director of digital content at Shape.