Over the weekend, strolling through a health food store in a locale new to me, I came across a strange-looking fruit. There were large chunks of it with big seeds, and it reminded me of a durian fruit. In other words, the outside looks like a fossilized porcupine. Curious, I read the label and realized that I was holding jackfruit in my hands. It was excited because lately I have been hearing much about that fruit, as it is supposed to have a meaty quality to it and it makes its round in plant-based food circles. Can't beat a vegetable version of BBQ'd pork without the two-day prep time and hours of slow cooking.
So what's the deal with jackfruit?
Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world — one fruit can weigh between 10 and 100 pounds and contain numerous seeds that are rich in protein, potassium, calcium, and iron — all of which are important for bodily growth.
The jackfruit is believed to be indigenous to the rainforests of the Western Ghats of India. It spread early on to other parts of India, Southeast Asia, the East Indies and ultimately the Philippines. It is often planted in central and eastern Africa and is fairly popular in Brazil. Jackfruit is adapted to humid tropical and near-tropical climates. I read Bangladeshis greatly value jackfruit, while in India it is not popular due to its “poor-man’s” reputation. In the US it is indeed rare to find it. Luckily, I realized Chinatown in Manhattan sells whole, fresh jackfruit, as well as canned jackfruit that is brined, in sweet syrup or simply submerged in water.
Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, reaching 80 pounds in weight and up to 36 inches long and 20 inches in diameter. The exterior of the fruit is green or yellow when ripe. The interior consists of large edible bulbs of yellow, banana-flavored flesh that encloses a smooth, oval, light-brown seed. The seed is 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches long and 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick, and is white and crisp within. The average fruit bears 100 or up to 500 seeds in a single fruit. When fully ripe, the unopened jackfruit emits a strong disagreeable odor, like that of decaying onions. The pulp of the opened fruit smells of pineapple and banana.
Jackfruit is high in protein, potassium and vitamin B. And, with about 95 calories in about a half a cup, they aren't as high-carb or caloric compared to staples like rice or corn.
Fruits are typically picked in summer and fall. They drop of their own accord by the time they are overripe. A yearly yield can be in the 150- to 200-fruit range.
What to do with jackfruit?
Jackfruit can be dried, roasted, added to soups, or used in chips, jams, juices and ice cream. The seeds can be boiled, roasted or ground into flour. Even the tree itself is valuable: high-quality, rot-resistant timber for furniture and musical instruments.
The jackfruit is made up of hundreds or even thousands of individual flowers that are fused together. Commonly, the fleshy petals that surround the seed—which is the actual fruit—are eaten. As for the taste, it tastes better than it smells, in my opinion. The taste can be described as a mild mango, almost pear-like. The texture is a little mealy and stringy. It is sweet in a good, tropical kind of way. Its texture lends itself to mocking meat and absorbing just about any flavor you throw its way.
Let's get cooking...
For canned jackfruit, drain and clean it, and to be sure it’s young, green jackfruit in water, not brine or syrup. This is key to achieving the proper flavor and texture in savory dishes.
I sautéed my jackfruit in vegetable oil and then tossed it with tomato sauce and spices, then continued to simmer it for about 30 minutes. That's it! If you don't have the spices handy, I recommend using your favorite store-bought BBQ sauce.
(4 - 6 1-cup servings)
1-1/2 pounds fresh jackfruit (fleshy petals that surround the seed)
or (2) 20-ounce cans young green jackfruit in water (NOT in syrup or brine)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower or olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon chili spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon garlic powder
OPTIONAL: 1 teaspoon liquid smoke and 1/8 teaspoon clove powder
2 tablespoons agave nectar
4 cups chopped canned tomatoes or (1) 28-ounce can or 3 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce
- If using canned fruit, rinse, drain and thoroughly dry the jackfruit. Chop off the center "core" portion of the fruit and discard. Cut into 1" pieces.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add jackfruit and cook for 10 minutes. The pieces should have a brown color at this point; if not, continue to cook.
- Add spices, agave, and tomato or BBQ sauce, and 1 cup of water. Stir and reduce heat to low, then cook for about 20 minutes covered with a lid. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve your BBQ jackfruit between buns as a BBQ pulled pork sandwich. A creamy veggie slaw goes great with that.
- Ladle the saucy goodness over steamed jasmine rice enriched with beans.
- Serve it next to steamy mashed potatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh basil. My meat-hungry family loved that!
- The next day, after the BBQ jackfruit has sat in the refrigerator, spread it on toasted, olive oil-brushed sourdough bread. Delicious!