WHAT THE HECK IS JACKFRUIT?
While you may have seen images of jackfruit floating around Pinterest, we bet you don’t know jack about it. These Southeast Asian mega-orbs — which are usually 10–20 pounds, but can weigh up to 80 pounds for a single fruit — hail from India, but grow anywhere tropical and humid, including the East Indies, the Philippines, eastern Africa and Brazil. In vegan, vegetarian and clean-eating circles, jackfruit is quickly becoming a go-to for sandwiches, tacos and stews because the unripened fruit has a meaty texture that appeals to people wanting to eliminate or reduce meat in their diet.
Bland on its own, jackfruit is a culinary canvas ready to absorb strong flavors, such as curry or barbecue. At 150 calories per cup and zero cholesterol, this low-fat, wheat- and soy-free food brings protein and fiber to the table in place of pork, beef, seafood and more.
Most North American cooks aren’t going to tango with whole, fresh jackfruit. Fresh jackfruit, particularly the unripe fruit, can be difficult to source, even if you’re lucky enough to live near a good Asian market. Even if you can find them, the yield is too much for most households. Note that the ripe fruit is sometimes available, but its “perfume,” a stench many equate with rotting onions, is about as popular with Westerners as durian.
FRESH VERSUS CANNED
The jackfruit is one of those rare types of produce that we encourage you to skip fresh in favor of prepared or canned. The shortest route between you and jackfruit is a product like Uptons’ Naturals ready-to-eat jackfruit in flavors like barbecue, chili-lime carnitas and Thai curry. Pair it with a tortilla or a bowl of rice. The Jackfruit Company also sells pre-cooked, pre-seasoned frozen entrees in flavors like teriyaki and Tex-Mex, as well as ready-to-eat ripe and tropical jackfruit for smoothies and snacking. Unlike the fresh stuff, there’s no foul odor, and the flavor is very tropical (think: mango and banana).
Most home cooks prefer to get their jack-attack from canned fruit, because it’s inexpensive, ready to eat and a manageable quantity for a single meal. Edward & Sons sells a canned organic jackfruit ready for your recipe under the Native Forest label, but almost any Indian, Filipino or Thai market will have plenty of canned jackfruit on hand. For savory cooking, look for the unripe jackfruit packed in brine, rather than the sweet, ripe fruit packed in syrup
HOW TO COOK WITH IT
To cook with unripe jackfruit, drain it, squeeze it out and either shred it by pulling it apart with your fingers or cut it into chunks. Though it can be eaten on its own, its neutral taste is livened when paired with flavorful ingredients. Jackfruit is best sautéed with strong flavors like onions, garlic, chili and ginger. Most recipes for the fruit turn to barbecue sauce, Jamaican jerk seasoning or rich Indian, Thai or Malaysian curry spices. Try Barbecue Jackfruit Sandwicheswith Avocado Slaw or Southeast Asian-inspired Jackfruit Curry.
Atop rice, slapped onto a hamburger bun like a sloppy Joe with pickles or wrapped into a tortilla with beans and cheese, you’ll marvel at jackfruit’s toothsome, satisfying texture. Need more inspiration? Jackfruit365 makes jackfruit flour that can be baked into a variety of Indian dishes, including Aloo Paratha, a griddled, potato-stuffed bread, and Dal Vada, a fried, spiced fritter of jackfruit flour and lentils.