The mystery behind jackfruit, the great meat impersonator
Vegetarians and vegans enjoy a lot of meat substitutes, but most are a far cry from the real thing. Enter jackfruit.
The first time I had jackfruit pulled “pork,” it was a total revelation. Here was the succulent, sweet and sticky flavor I missed, with the same moist-yet-crisped-up texture I craved. I had to ask, “Uhhhh... are you sure this is vegetarian?” before my friend assured me that yes, of course, she wasn’t sneak-feeding me meat (hey, you never know!).
But what is jackfruit, and how else can you use it? I was determined to find out...
What it is
OK, not gonna lie, if you see whole jackfruit in the grocery store, it looks kind of terrifying.
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit from Southeast Asia. It’s the largest fruit that grows on trees, sometimes reaching up to 80 pounds in weight and nearly 3 feet in length. Jackfruit has a green-tan exterior and is covered with spikes.
Unlike other fruits, the part of the jackfruit that’s edible is its flowers. Hundreds of these flowers are nestled within each fruit, and the fleshy petals are the part we enjoy. There are also seeds inside the jackfruit, which can also be eaten. Apparently they taste kind of like chestnuts.
Jackfruit has been a popular vegetarian meat substitute throughout Southeast Asia for centuries. In fact, in West Bengal, its nickname is “tree mutton.” It’s often used in curries, stir-fries and stews. Luckily here in the U.S., we’re finally starting to catch on to this tasty treasure.
What to buy
Jackfruit can be sold whole and is often found in Asian grocery stores. If you want to use your jackfruit in savory dishes, make sure you look for unripe (sometimes also called "green" or "young") jackfruit.
Canned jackfruit is also an option (and a great choice if you don’t feel like taking home a 15-pound behemoth). Again, look for unripe jackfruit in water, not brine or syrup (though the sweet, ripe jackfruit is a fun addition to dessert).
Some stores are starting to carry pre-prepared jackfruit. Look for brands like Upton’s Naturals, which sells Chili Lime Jackfruit Carnitas, among other flavors, or visit your natural grocery store, which may sell jackfruit in its prepared foods section.
How to cook it
There are a few different ways you can cook jackfruit.
If you want to try the pulled-pork method, it’s easy. Slowly simmer your jackfruit, seeds removed, in a flavorful liquid or sauce, or sauté it in oil and spices. After about 30 to 40 minutes, it’ll start to pull apart into shreds. At this point you can strain any liquid, toss the jackfruit with barbecue sauce and simmer for a few more minutes so it soaks up the flavor. Then, a quick flash under the broiler to crisp things up, and you’re in business.
You can also just add your seeded jackfruit to stews, chili and curries, letting it simmer until it’s pulling apart and tender.
And if you want to get really creative, you can try making hyper-realistic fried chicken drumsticks and thighs out of the stuff. It’s freaky in the best way and will totally hit the spot for vegans and vegetarians who sometimes crave the flavors of their former favorite foods.