What is jackfruit? Taste, benefits and uses

Jackfruit is amazing! And yet, many people still consider it to be a niche speciality, or merely a ‘trendy’ ingredient for use in only a handful of dishes. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

So, what is jackfruit then?

Few people are aware that jackfruit is the world’s largest tree-borne fruit, each tree is capable of producing up to 4 tonnes of fruit! It’s been used as a staple food by hundreds of millions of people for thousands of years across Asia due to its abundance and usefulness. (Did you know that the wood from the jackfruit tree makes great furniture!?). In India it’s so common that it’s known by many as a poor man’s food, as it’s usually only eaten by those that can’t afford meat. 

Over 70% goes to waste given the sheer number of wild trees growing in jungles, by the roadside, and in people’s backyards. However, its fibrous flesh and natural ability to absorb flavours has led to it being used as a substitute for beef, pork, chicken, duck and even fish in countless savoury dishes for generations. And, if you leave jackfruit on the tree to ripen, it will sweeten, turn yellow, and transform into an exotic fruit with a taste combining mango, banana, and a hint of pineapple. It’s then eaten as a sweet treat in pastries, smoothies, and ice creams. All this from a fruit that can weigh up to 40kg!

So, why isn’t jackfruit more common? 

A lot comes down to the lack of understanding of jackfruit’s history and uses. Also, the confusion between ripe and unripe jackfruit. There are still numerous websites that don’t distinguish between the two, so this can make for a very unpleasant customer experience if the wrong product is purchased when following a recipe. 

The comparison to ‘pulled pork’ also seems to have taken root, so much so that a disproportionately high percentage of dishes are ‘pork’-based, and a lot of people now think jackfruit also tastes like pulled pork, when in fact it’s only the texture that they have in common. Once you realise what jackfruit can actually do, a whole new world of exciting and tasty dishes opens up before you. 

There’s no doubt that the increase in awareness and demand for plant-based foods has come at the right time for jackfruit, but there have also been a plethora of alternative meat brands hitting the market, often with large marketing budgets and even higher IP valuations, that have stolen some of the limelight. As jackfruit isn’t a ‘brand’ as such, it’s hard to shout above the noise. However, a growing number of consumers appreciate that jackfruit is a natural, whole food, which immediately separates it from anything processed, and for many makes it more desirable. 

Four green jackfruit of varying sizes at the end of a branch of the jackfruit treeNga Le/Pixabay

What does jackfruit taste like and how should I cook it?

You can use jackfruit for pretty much anything, but the key to success is marinating. Young jackfruit has almost no flavour, but it can be a little bitter, and also a touch sweet if it’s been picked late in the season. It therefore needs time to absorb the flavours of whatever it’s being cooked in, or you’ll simply be coating it - especially if using tinned jackfruit which will have also absorbed a lot of water. Jackfruit also loves strong flavours, hence its use in curries, so plenty of spice is a good idea, making it great for Asian, North African, Middle Eastern, and also South American dishes. For the very best results jackfruit should be left to marinate overnight, either by prepping one day and then cooking the next, or by cooking, leaving, and then reheating next day. As most of us know from growing up, dishes such as stews and casseroles always taste better the next day, and it’s no different with jackfruit: 24 hours is perfect.

Jackfruit: Benefits, nutrition and sustainability

Jackfruit is very high in fibre, with as much as 9.5g per 100g for pouched jackfruit that has no added water. Jackfruit has also evolved to be naturally pest-resistant (most jackfruit is naturally organic) and drought resistant (requiring no artificial irrigation). Needing no man-made intervention whatsoever makes jackfruit one of the most sustainable plants on the planet.

Any favourite dishes?

Jackfruit shepherd’s pie takes some beating. Not only does it make a great winter warming dish, but with a touch of mint jelly stirred into the initial gravy mix, it’ll fool even the most hardened meat-eater into thinking they’re eating lamb.

Watch this space, as The Jackfruit Company will be sharing some fantastic jackfruit recipes over the coming weeks that everyone can try. And they won’t all be ‘pork’!

The Jackfruit Company was founded in 2011 by medical student Annie Ryu. Having travelled to India to implement a maternal and child healthcare program, she discovered jackfruit on a street vendor’s stall and was immediately intrigued. She soon learned that despite having multiple nutritional and ecological benefits, the majority of jackfruit in India was going to waste. Realising that jackfruit had the potential to improve not only people’s diets, but also the local farmer’s livelihoods, she set up a previously non-existent supply chain to introduce the rest of the planet to this amazing crop. She has since gone on to become the world’s largest distributor of jackfruit, sourcing directly from over 1500 farming communities.

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