Jackfruit isn’t a very exotic name, is it? But the fruit far surpasses what you’d expect from its name — or from looking at it, for that matter. The skin is bumpy/spiky, like a lychee fruit, but yellow or green instead of pink. Also known as kathal, yaka, or jaca, the jackfruit is in the same family as figs and mulberries.
And the fruit is big! Sometimes massive. In fact, while you can find smaller jackfruits (thank goodness) at the grocers in season, one jackfruit can grow up to 100 pounds. The jackfruit tree is the largest fruit tree in the world, and it’s prolific, too — one tree can produce as much as three tons of fruit annually! It thrives in tropical areas and is easy to grow, surviving drought conditions and pests. In other words, jackfruit can feed plenty of people!
What does jackfruit taste like?
The white flesh of the unripe jackfruit doesn’t have much smell or flavor. The yellow to orange flesh of ripe fruit is much sweeter because — as with other fruits — the sugar content increases during ripening.
Ripe jackfruit tastes tropical — mildly sweet, like a mixture of several fruits you can’t quite put your finger on. People have tried though, and descriptions include a combo of: apples and bananas; mangoes, pineapple, and banana; hearts of palm, kimchi, and pineapple; melon and citrus. Some even say it reminds them of Juicy Fruit gum!
The taste is subtle though, and the fruit beautifully absorbs the flavor of seasonings (much the way tofu does).
How is jackfruit eaten?
Jackfruit can be eaten ripe or unripe. The part that you most commonly eat is the fleshy fruit pods. But you can also eat the cooked (not raw) seeds — boiled, baked, or roasted and seasoned, The seeds are quite large and have a nutty flavor, similar to Brazil nuts.
Raw jackfruit is good in smoothies and in desserts and fruit salads. You can also boil, steam, or fry the flesh and season it with an array of spices. You might cook it and eat it as a side dish, much like potatoes. You’ll frequently find it used in Southeast and Southeast Asian cuisine. It makes a delicious curry!
Thanks to its texture, jackfruit is often used as a vegetarian meat substitute. Because it can be shredded, it makes a terrific vegan version of pulled pork sandwiches, and it’s excellent in tacos, enchiladas, kebabs, kofta (an Indian meatloaf or meatball), and birria (a Mexican meat stew).
Is jackfruit good for you?
Yes! Jackfruit contains essential minerals (potassium, magnesium, manganese, and iron), vitamins A, B, and C, and antioxidants. It’s high in fiber and low in calories and has over 3 grams of protein per cup, which is good for a fruit. (Note that, while the fruit is often used to substitute for the texture of meat, it’s not high enough in protein to substitute nutritionally. If you’re looking for vegetarian protein, look to other sources, such as quinoa, tofu, and beans.)
The seeds, too, are nutritious — high in protein, potassium, iron, and calcium.
BTW, if you have an allergy or sensitivity to latex, you’ll want to avoid jackfruit, because the sap contains latex. (While there are synthetic latex products, latex is a natural material. The milky white substance is found under the bark of the rubber tree and some other plants.
When is it in season?
Jackfruit is in season over the summer months. Other times of the year you can find it canned, frozen, dried, or in pouches in many grocery stores and food co-ops.
Because jackfruit is large and can be a mess to prepare, a prepared version might be a better way you want to go if you’re short on time or patience.
Shopping for jackfruit
When choosing fresh jackfruit in the produce department:
- Give it a little press. It should give just a bit.
- Sniff it. If ripe, it should smell slightly sweet.
- Tap on the fruit. If it’s ripe you’ll hear a dull, hollow sound.
- Make sure the skin doesn’t have any soft brown or black spots. The skin will turn a light brown as the fruit ripens (and become more aromatic). But there shouldn’t be any obvious soft, dark sections.
When choosing canned or packaged jackfruit, note that many brands have choices that are pre-seasoned. That might be handy if you have a particular use in mind — say Mexican seasoned for taco night or barbeque flavored for sandwiches — but not so great if you need plain jackfruit. Make sure you read the label, so you know what you’re getting.
Also note that if the label says “green” or “young” it means the fruit will be less sweet, more savory.
Whole, uncut jackfruit can sit on the counter until it’s fully ripe. Then place it in the refrigerator to stop the ripening process.
Once cut, the pod pieces should be refrigerated and used within a week. You can also wrap the pods pieces and freeze them for a couple of months.
Preparing fresh jackfruit
Jackfruit is sticky and messy. But if you’re into food and food experiences, you really ought to buy it fresh and cut it up yourself. At least once. There are many methods for cutting the fruit, but I think it’s easiest to cut the fruit into round slabs and deal with each round. (Another common method is to cut it lengthwise and dig in.) Here’s how to tackle the slab method:
- Oil your knife and cutting board to prevent the sap from sticking. (Re-oil as needed throughout the process.) Coconut oil or any vegetable oil will work. Cover your cutting board or counter with paper or plastic, something you can discard afterwards.
- Either oil the hand that will hold the fruit or put on some gloves. (I prefer gloves because an oiled hand can get slippery.)
- Cut the fruit into rounds, about 2 inches wide. (Simply slice the fruit, starting at one end, into 2-inch slabs.)
- Remove the white core from each of the rounds. (This is inedible compost.)
- Use a small knife to cut the fruit pods (drupes) out of the pulp. Discard each slab as you finish removing the pods.
- Make a shallow cut in the pods to remove the seeds.
- Separate the seeds and the pods and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To clean up, discard the paper you cut on, and wipe the knife and your hands. Apply more oil and continue wiping, removing the latex. Then wash with dish soap and hot water.
What is green jackfruit flour?
Green jackfruit flour is flour that’s produced from unripe, green jackfruits. It has a low glycemic index and is used to control blood sugar. It adds no taste but is touted to reduce carbohydrate intake, as it has fewer carbs and calories — and more fiber — than wheat or rice flours. Simply add it to meals or in cooking in place of the same amount of rice or wheat flour.
A small study presented to the American Diabetes Association in 2020 suggested that there’s a therapeutic effect of green jackfruit flour meal in improving glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes.
Here are some jackfruit recipes you might like to try:
Please let us know if you have a favorite jackfruit recipe or any tips for cutting jackfruit!
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