Jackfruit is a large, prickly fruit that's common in Asian cuisines. It's often used in curries, especially in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries where it's plentiful in the markets. Worldwide, jackfruit is finding increased use as a vegetarian substitute for meat in some surprising recipes, including American-style barbecue and sandwiches.
What Is Jackfruit?
Jackfruit is enormous and prickly on the outside. It is oblong, green, and looks somewhat like durian, though jackfruit can be even larger. In fact, the jackfruit is the largest fruit that comes from a tree, sometimes reaching 80 pounds and 36 inches long. It grows in Thailand and other tropical regions of Asia. The fruit is popular in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, among other Southeast Asian countries, and is considered the national fruit of Bangladesh.
The flesh inside a jackfruit unique. When cut open, you'll see large, pale-yellow pods (or bulbs) that contain seeds, all of which are connected to the fruit's core. Ripe jackfruit can be eaten fresh or added to desserts such as ice cream. It's the unripe, green jackfruit that's the most interesting and useful. It has a texture very similar to chicken or pulled pork, which makes it an excellent "vegetarian meat" for curries, salads, and noodles.
How to Cook With Jackfruit
Preparing a green jackfruit takes a little doing, but it yields a lot of food. The extras can be frozen for future use, just like you would with extra fresh meat. Jackfruit contains natural latex, so if you have a latex allergy, wear gloves. If working bare-handed, slather oil over your hands and a sharp serrated knife so they don't get too sticky.
A common way to prepare jackfruit is by boiling or using a pressure cooker. It's best to lay down newspaper over a wide working surface, then slice the jackfruit into two halves. Keep slicing until you have large chunks of fruit (leaving the skin on). Boil the jackfruit chunks for 45 minutes, or until the inner flesh is soft and a bit stringy, like chicken. If you have a pressure cooker, 10 minutes is usually enough.
When the jackfruit is cooked, peel off the skin to reveal the seeds and pods surrounding the seeds. The seed pods can be eaten, as well as the stringy fleshy sections between the pods and skin. Dig all this out, separating the seeds, and cook with it, or bag it and freeze it.
Many people choose to discard jackfruit seeds, though they are edible as long as they're cooked. Roasting—much like roasted pumpkin seeds—is a popular way to finish cooking the seeds. They can be added as a salad topping or smoothie ingredient, puréed into hummus, ground into flour, or eaten as a snack.
What Does It Taste Like?
Ripe jackfruit has a tropical fruit sweetness often likened to mango or pineapple. When still green, jackfruit has a more neutral flavor, similar to a potato, and will absorb the flavor of other foods it's cooked with. The seeds are similar to chestnuts after boiling or roasting.
Use your jackfruit to make vegetarian curry; it can be a substitute for ingredients like tofu and chickpeas. Or add it to stir-fries, salads or any recipe in which chicken or pork would be used.
Where to Buy Jackfruit
Fresh jackfruit can be purchased at Asian food markets and specialty stores. It's typically sold by the pound, with the average market jackfruit weighing between 10 and 25 pounds. A whole jackfruit's smell will usually indicate its ripeness: the stronger the smell the riper the fruit. Due to the fruit's size, many stores offer pre-cut jackfruit as well. Whether raw or ripe, make sure to avoid fruit with black or dark spots.
Jackfruit can also be purchased frozen, dried, or canned. The canned variety will be packed in brine (preferred for curry and other savory dishes) or syrup, which is ripe and sweet and not as universally useful. Additionally, look for canned jackfruit that's labeled "green," "young," or "tender" if you want to use it as a meat substitute.
Whole jackfruit will ripen as it rests. If you intend to enjoy it while green, process and freeze it as soon as possible. Cut, ripened jackfruit can be stored in plastic in the refrigerator for about one week or the freezer for up to one month.
Nutrition and Benefits
Raw jackfruit contains protein and lots of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and iron. The canned variety has less than the fresh, which is always the case with any vegetable or fruit.
Jackfruit vs. Durian
Jackfruit looks like an oversized durian, though durian is spiky where jackfruit has a more pebble-like skin. The biggest difference is that durian has an intense flavor and smell, which is noticeable even while the fruit is still whole. Once open, you'll notice that durian's flesh is divided into distinct segments by the thick husk, not the tightly packed pods found inside jackfruit. Additionally, durian is generally reserved for sweets and doesn't have the savory dish potential of green jackfruit.
There are many varieties of jackfruit grown. They range from small two-pound fruits to the largest 40- to 80-pound cultivars. The flesh can vary slightly as well, from yellow to deep orange, with more or less sweetness. Most have a firm texture, though some can be rather soft.
One common misconception is that jackfruit seeds are toxic. For most people, however, it is perfectly safe to eat cooked jackfruit seeds. They are full of extra nutrients, including starch, protein, antioxidants, and the B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin.
Jackfruit seeds' bad reputation likely comes from the fact that they do contain tannins and trypsin inhibitors. These antinutrients can inhibit nutrient absorption and digestion when the seeds are eaten raw, which is why they should always be cooked. Additionally, the seeds may increase bleeding in people who take certain medications. These include aspirin, antiplatelet medications, blood thinners, ibuprofen, and naproxen.