Jackfruit Basics: Everything You Should Know
This crazy-looking tropical fruit is full of nutrition and tastes delicious in all kinds of jackfruit recipes. You've likely seen the green-skinned jackfruit used in savory recipes like jackfruit pulled pork, but it can easily go sweet in dessert recipes, too. Here are the basics you should know.
Jackfruit is a green, spiky, oversized football-shape fruit that's perfect if eating a more plant-based diet is one of your goals—or if you just like trying new foods. Thanks to its meat-like texture and ability to take on a variety of flavors, jackfruit is a great stand-in for pork in pulled pork sandwiches or beef or chicken in tacos, and one that omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans will all enjoy.
Until the past few years, jackfruit was not on our American radar. But now—perhaps in part because of our growing interest in plant-based diets and the increasing concern about the future global food supply—jackfruit is much more well-known (and easily available at well-stocked grocery stores) in the U.S. You can find it in several areas of a well-stocked grocery store—either in the produce section, canned goods, or the freezer aisle (more on that later).
What Is Jackfruit?
Native to Southeast Asia, jackfruit is said to be the largest tree fruit in the world. A single jackfruit can weigh up to 100 pounds. A fresh one is oval-shape and fairly large with a bright green and dully-spiked exterior. Jackfruit is surprisingly versatile because it’s edible at its varying levels of ripeness, which yield different textures and flavors. In other words, it doesn't have to be perfectly "ripe" to use.
What Does Jackfruit Taste Like?
Young, aka less ripe, jackfruit is very mild in flavor. It has a meaty texture that has been likened to chicken (albeit a meatless version that works in vegan recipes). “If you’re going for savory applications and using it as a mock meat, you need to make sure it’s young green jackfruit to achieve the best texture and flavor,” says Jamie Vespa, MS, RD. Savory jackfruit recipes like these sliders are a good use for young jackfruit.
As jackfruit ripens, the flesh softens, darkens, and sweetens. Its flavor turns more tropical—like a cross between pineapple and banana or pineapple and mango. Ripe and sweeter jackfruit is ideal in salads, smoothies, popsicles, sorbet, and other frozen desserts, such as jackfruit ice cream.
How to Cut Jackfruit
It is fairly time-consuming to prep jackfruit from a whole fruit. Each jackfruit is large and needs to be cored—and the core is quite sticky. Then you have to pluck out the fruit pods (a darker yellow flesh nestled in-between whiter strands), and remove the seeds and their skin from inside each fruit pod.
How to Remove the Fruit From a Fresh Jackfruit
If you're new to jackfruit, here's our Test Kitchen-approved technique for getting the most out of your fruit.
- Coat a large knife blade with oil and line a cutting board with plastic wrap or parchment paper. (Jackfruits are sticky!) Wearing plastic or rubber gloves, cut jackfruit crosswise into 2-inch slices; then cut the slices in half.
- Run a paring knife along the core to separate it from the fruit pods. Pull out fruit pods and remove the white fibers and tips.
- Cut pods in half lengthwise; remove the jackfruit seeds and their rubbery skins. From there, cut the jackfruit into whatever size pieces you need for your recipe.
How to Cook Jackfruit
Because you can eat jackfruit raw or cooked, it’s fairly straightforward if you want to cook it; there are no proper doneness safety concerns. Simply season it however you’d like and then cook it. “I find it’s best tossed in a bold sauce or marinade or seasoning mix (it will take on just about any flavor profile you throw its way), and then sautéed over medium-high heat to pick up some color and caramelization,” says Vespa. “At that point, you can use it in tacos or a sandwich, or in place of shredded chicken over nachos.”
How to Cook Jackfruit Seeds
The seeds are also edible—simply boil them for 20 to 30 minutes first (or fry them) and eat them like a nut or potato. The white strands are technically edible, but they’re said to not be very tasty so we recommend discarding them.
Is Jackfruit Good for You?
The giant tropical fruit is quite nutritious. It is a good source of vitamins A, C, and a few of the B vitamins. Jackfruit also delivers decent doses of magnesium, copper, manganese, and potassium (a mineral most Americans don’t get enough of). You’ll also get a healthy serving of fiber. And it’s lower in calories than most other tropical fruits.
Related: Top 10 Superfoods of 2019
Where to Buy Jackfruit
You can find jackfruit in nearly every section of well-stocked grocery stores or specialty markets (such as your local Asian market). You can buy it fresh in the produce section, typically alongside other tropical fruits. Select one with a strong fragrance. You can find canned jackfruit (sometimes in syrup or brine as well as plain water, so read the labels closely); cubed and unseasoned in resealable bags in the freezer aisle; plain or flavored in the refrigerated section (just heat and eat or add to a recipe); even dried and bagged like other dried fruits.
Now that you know all the basics of jackfruit and how to cook with it, add it to your grocery list for the week to give it a try.