What Is Jackfruit, the New Meat Substitute on Menus?


You might have noticed jackfruit making its way onto menus as a meat-free burger option, or spotted it in the produce section of your local grocery store, packaged in Styrofoam trays or cans. Possibly, you’ve even come across it on social media, featured in cooking videos showcasing its versatility as a meat substitute in dishes ranging from hotdogs to nachos to pulled pork. But what exactly is jackfruit, and how can you incorporate it into your cooking? We’ve got you covered.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Jackfruit

Originating from southern India, Sri Lanka, and the rainforests of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, jackfruit has been an integral part of many Asian cuisines for centuries and continues to hold its ground today. As the largest fruit that grows on a tree, it can weigh up to 100 pounds when fully ripe.

Jackfruit’s exterior can be green or yellow, boasting a firm, bumpy skin. Its interior comprises delectable fleshy yellow bulbs, each containing a seed. When ripe, these bulbs offer a sweet, fruity flavor and a thick texture akin to pineapple when cooked. In its unripe form, the bulbs lack a distinct flavor of their own, making them ideal for soaking up the flavors of accompanying sauces. Unripe jackfruit’s stringy, meaty texture closely resembles that of beef or pork, making it a sought-after meat substitute. Its neutral, almost bland taste allows it to absorb the flavors of any accompanying ingredients, rendering it a versatile culinary component.

In regions where it is grown, jackfruit is prepared in various ways. In India, ripe jackfruit is commonly enjoyed as a preserve called chakka varatti, typically cooked with spices such as cardamom and ginger, as well as ingredients like jaggery and ghee. Additionally, jackfruit can be transformed into a spicy stir-fry dish known as kathal ki sabzi, often paired with hot chapati or chapatti. In Indonesia and Malaysia, it is sliced and cooked in stews with coconut milk, tamarind, and an array of spices and herbs including lemongrass, turmeric, cardamom, ginger, and galangal.

Ripe jackfruit can be savored raw and is frequently used in desserts and sweet dishes. It is commonly found sliced or finely chopped in Filipino dessert halo-halo and Vietnamese dessert soup che, both delectable sweet soups.

Sourcing the Finest Jackfruit

In many supermarkets, jackfruit is available in various forms. Fresh fruit is only available during specific times of the year, typically in August and September. However, if whole jackfruit seems daunting, fret not, as many retailers offer ripe jackfruit in convenient bite-size portions or bulbs, packaged in styrofoam and plastic wrap. Canned raw jackfruit in brine, water, or syrup can usually be found in the canned foods section, while frozen ripe jackfruit bulbs may be located in the freezer section alongside other fruits and vegetables.

For the widest selection of jackfruit products, consider visiting your local Asian grocery store. If you’re unable to find what you need there, both canned and dried jackfruit are available on Amazon. While fresh jackfruit can also be purchased online, exercise caution as some individuals have reported receiving overripe and rotting fruit.

Embracing Jackfruit in Your Culinary Adventures

Unripe jackfruit can be substituted for meat in dishes calling for shredded, crushed, or pulled meat. Notably popular as a pulled pork alternative, its naturally stringy texture makes it an excellent choice for this purpose. Simply use your hands or forks to gently separate the raw jackfruit, then combine it with your preferred spices and sauté before serving on buns with slaw or in tacos, burritos, or tamales. Cooked pulled jackfruit can also be enjoyed as a light entrée when seasoned with taco spices and accompanied by tortilla chips.

Jackfruit thrives in braised, slow-cooked, and saucy dishes. Whether added to a chili recipe, braised in beer, or incorporated into a ragù for a unique take on spaghetti bolognese, jackfruit can be shredded, chopped, or sliced according to your preference for texture.

Thanks to its dual nature as a sweet and savory ingredient, jackfruit is a versatile addition to your pantry. Ripe jackfruit can be savored similarly to mango: spooned over sticky rice, blended into a smoothie, or added to plain yogurt for a healthy, sweet option.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to embark on a jackfruit culinary adventure. Whether braised in a hearty stew or served fresh in a dessert, the possibilities with jackfruit are endless. Its versatility makes it a straightforward ingredient to work with, no matter how you choose to incorporate it into your cooking.

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