BY: AYTEN SALAHI, MS
Jackfruit is having its moment in the spotlight - and for good reason. With the right amount of moisture and seasoning, young jackfruit can make for a delicious, fiber-rich, plant-based swap for shredded beef, pork, or chicken. But there's much, much more to the story of jackfruit.
This enormous, oblong, and versatile fruit has been consumed in tropical regions around the world for millennia before making its way to the US just recently as a trendy household item. It is native to southwest India and has spread throughout the region to grow abundantly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and beyond. Eaten ripe and raw, it has a mild sweet taste like pineapple; cooked and unripe, it has a starchier, potato-like consistency and a neutral taste that easily absorbs surrounding flavors and seasonings.
Beyond its uniquely adaptable flavor profile, jackfruit is also becoming known as one of the most sustainable tree-borne fruits in the world, particularly in the context of the looming climate crisis. One jackfruit tree can produce up to three tons of fruit, and as one of the largest tree-borne fruits out there, this equates to a lot of fruit! (Seriously, an adult jackfruit can grow to be one hundred pounds and up to three feet long.) It grows easily and abundantly in tropical climates and is known for its resilience in the face of extreme heat, drought, and common pests, potentially due to its thick, fleshy exterior. But because jackfruit grows so plentifully in tropical climates and has such a thick, bumpy exterior (and a mildly unpleasant smell during processing), one study reports that nearly three-quarters of the annual yield of jackfruit in India goes to waste every year, leaving a massive window of opportunity to jackfruit processors to reduce food waste while providing an affordable food option to the masses.
The nutrient profile of jackfruit makes it even more enticing. In Bali, jackfruit is considered a healing and almost medicinal fruit, particularly to ease digestive upset. A nutrient analysis of one cup alone of cleaned, sliced jackfruit shows us just how nutrient-packed this sustainable fruit can be:
A climate-resilient, nutritious fruit that shreds like pulled meat and grows abundantly in spite of drought and pests? It's no wonder that jackfruit has been hailed as a miracle fruit.
You can find fresh jackfruit in some speciality stores (raw, ripe is my favorite way to eat it!), but if you're looking to swap shredded meat for jackfruit at your next taco night, go for the 20-ounce canned young jackfruit instead. Rinse, drain, shred and properly season at least one can to see how you like it.
Here's a recipe you can try for your very first jackfruit experience - one of my personal favorites.
Yield: 10 servings (1 cup each)
Equipment: Instant Pot preferred (or pressure cooker, or stovetop), blender
Let us know what you think of your first jackfruit experience and feel free to share any additional tips, tricks, and recipes for prep in the comments!