Jackfruit: America’s Next Big Meat Alternative?

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: November 9th, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

A ginormous South Asian fruit — the jackfruit — that can grow to the size of a toddler has become one of the biggest vegan food trends here in the US. How did this giant, spiky, prehistoric looking fruit whose ripened flesh emits a rather unpleasant stench (apparently its flavor inspired Juicy Fruit gum) become so popular?

Jackfruit on Slate Cutting Board to Be Used as Vegan Food Meat Substitute | Vitacost.com/blog

What is jackfruit? 

A relative of the fig, jackfruit’s claim to fame is that it’s the largest tree-borne fruit in the world—the fruit can weigh anywhere from 10-100 pounds. It’s other claim to fame is its versatility: Jackfruits can be dried, roasted, added to soups, used in chips, jams, juices, and even ice cream. It can be eaten green or ripe, and each fruit contains hundreds of seeds that can be boiled, roasted or ground into flour. The fruit is a good source of vitamin C, but jackfruit nutrition is concentrated in the seeds, which provide protein, potassium, calcium, and iron.

Jackfruit was the subject of a worldwide symposium in 2012, and since then it’s been praised as a miracle food capable of solving global food insecurity (the fruit grows abundantly in tropical climates). It’s rapid rise in the US has been phenomenal. In 2014, one nationwide jackfruit distributor said they sold a few cases a year. As of this year, the same distributor says they sell 250 cases a week. Jackfruit is even experiencing something of a resurgence in India, where it is thought to originate. Previously considered a poor man’s food, the media buzz around jackfruit’s growing status as a wheat and soy-free, plant-based meat substitute may be helping its image.

Interested in trying some out? Retailers across the country have started stocking pre-made entrees. The Jackfruit Company sells refrigerated, pre-cooked, pre-seasoned jackfruit to use as a meat alternative (their tagline is “the healthy main dish”) in flavors like teriyaki, barbecue, Tex-Mex and curry. Upton’s Naturals brand sells plain pre-cooked jackfruit, as well as barbecue, chili lime carnitas, and Thai curry flavored versions. Asian markets and some natural supermarkets stock both canned and fresh jackfruit.

If you’re game and want to whip up some jackfruit curry from scratch, be warned. One of the fruit’s major drawbacks is how challenging they are (read sticky and messy) to prep.

How do you cook it?

For savory food, the unripe fruit works best—the green flesh has the look and texture of real meat, plus a touch of stringiness reminiscent of pulled pork. Much the way tofu does, the fruit absorbs the seasoning it’s cooked in, from quesadillas and chili to omelets. It can also add heft and texture to mainstays such as brown rice, pizza, tacos, salads and stir fries.

When the fruit ripens it transforms into a fragrant, golden yellow fruit that tastes like a distant cousin of the mango. You can grill the ripe fruit and top with ice cream, put it into your smoothies, or eat it alone as a delicious snack.

Regardless of whether you cook it yourself or get some it pre-cooked, jackfruit is definitely worth inviting into your repertoire of superfoods. And if you are a committed vegan, this “plant-based” meat is a welcome newcomer on the alternative protein scene.