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Jackfruit – the trendy vegetarian meat replacement

Jackfruit is one of the first tropical fruits I feel in love with. It looks like a monster baby egg, but jackfruit taste is so pleasant they modeled a gum flavor after it. It is also large, spiky, and a chore to open up. But the jackfruit is a powerhouse of nutrition, flavor and calories. You can eat it raw when it is ripe (sweet) or  cooked green (aka under-ripe) as a vegetable often used as a meat replacement in many recipes. Below you’ll find more information on jackfruit, the world’s largest tree fruit. You will also learn how to harvest and eat jackfruit, both raw jackfruit and how to cook jackfruit when it is green.

Jackfruit taste, harvest, storage and growing information

Latin Name and family: Artocarpus heterophyllus, family: Moraceae (mulberry, fig and breadfruit family).

Other names: jak-fruit, jak, jaca, nangka (Malaysia and the Philippines); khanun (Thailand), khnor (Cambodia), mak mi or may mi (Laos), mit (Vietnam).

Characteristics:

Jackfruit is the largest fruit that comes from a tree. The fruit itself can range from 8 inches to 3 feet (or 20-90 centimeters) long and 6 – 20 inches (15-50 cm) wide. The weight ranges from 10 lbs to an average of 50-60 lbs. Howeer, some people have recorded them weighing up to 110 lbs. The outside of the skin has hard little points connected to a thick wall.

(this is a picture of a bumpy “Ziman Pink” jackfruit – a crunchy variety of jackfruit. It is compared to the size of a iPhone 5 : )

Inside jackfruit the main edible portions are like large “bulbs” surrounding the seeds. These bulbs have a somewhat stringy flesh. The seeds inside are light brown and are usually 3/4 inches to 1 1/2 inches long and about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick. The seeds have a thin white membrane outside. One jackfruit can contain up to 100-500 seeds inside each fruit. When a jackfruit is fully ripe it has a strong odor. Inside, the pulp of the fruit smells fragrant and tropical, like pineapple and banana.

Jackfruit in the Kitchen:

It is rumored that the flavor for Juicyfruit gum was modeled after the jackfruit. Now, jackfruit is gaining popularity worldwide especially for its use when it is unripe, it is being marketed as a vegan or vegetarian meat substitute. The unripe flesh can be cubed and boiled or cooked similar to breadfruit or plantains. Some people say that it tastes like chicken or pork; it truly soaks up the flavors of the sauces in which it is cooked. In the United States you can now find green (unripe) jackfruit in several health food cafes served in dishes like Vegetarian pulled pork sandwiches or tacos and in stores as prepared and frozen meat replacements. It is also sold in cans in water or brine. The seeds are also edible and a great source of protein when they are boiled and the hard shells removed.

Ripe jackfruit is a also a wonderful edible experience. The ripe pulp is great eaten raw in its natural state. It is also available canned in many markets. It is sweet, fruity, tropical, but unlike any one other fruit. Many people say that jackfruit has hints of pineapple, mango, banana, but again, these are just common tropical flavors that may relate to it.  You must get a chance to try ripe jackfruit for yourself. The canned jackfruit in syrup does not do this super fruit justice. Many people distinguish between two jackfruit types: crunchy and soft. Both are great and yield slightly different properties in their culinary applications.

 

Jackfruit culinary applications

My first experience with unripe Jackfruit was a when I cooked a green jackfruit curry. Many recipes use canned young jackfruit. But I highly recommend tracking your own unripe jackfruit down and experimenting. Another common recipe these days is green jackfruit “pulled pork” or barbecue jackfruit.

Jackfruit has a sticky latex when you pierce the skin.  It can be quite messy so it is highly recommended that you oil your knife and maybe even your hands a tiny bit before cutting into it. You may want to even open it in a shallow cardboard box or on top of newspapers to help with the mess.

To prepare green jackfruit, cut it into manageable sections, leaving the skin on and boil it for 45 minutes or pressure cook it for about 10. Once it has cooled, you can remove skin and seeds and use the edible pods cubed or separate it into stringy bits for recipes like vegan steak or pulled pork.

As mentioned previously, the seeds are also edible once cooked. However, it is a pain to remove the plastic-like outer layer of the seed. I have made a really yummy jackfruit seed vegetable burger but it did take a fair amount of work. You can also roast and dry seeds and turn them into a flour.

The ripe pulp may be used in fruit salad, fruit smoothies, etc. Moreover, both the green or ripe pulp can be frozen or canned.

Below are a few recipes that highlight jackfruit…

Jackfruit Curry – Vegetarian Curry Recipe

EASY Vegan Jackfruit BBQ (with fresh jackfruit!) (you tube video)

 

 

Jackfruit Harvest and Storage:

The fruits can mature anywhere from 3 to 8 months from flowering. You can usually tell it is ripe because they change from light green to yellow-brown, but be sure to harvest before it is quite brown and spots appear. The “spines” on the fruit may yield to pressure of your thumb and the fruit should sound hollow when tapped. Jackfruit turn very brown and deteriorate quickly after ripening (2-4 days). Ripe fruits can be kept a few weeks with adequate refrigeration and you can keep the edible flesh frozen for a few months once it is separated from the rind and the seeds.

Toxicity: Ripe jackfruit may act as a laxative if too much is eaten. The raw seeds are indigestible and need to be baked or boiled.

Health benefits:

A study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition indicated that the pulp of jackfruit is a natural source of antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage. This means the fruit can help slow down skin aging and can even assist in repairing damaged molecules, like DNA.

Another study published in The Ceylon Medical Journal categorized jackfruit as a low-glycemic index fruit, which is attributed to its dietary fiber content. Consumption of unripe jackfruit can even be used to fight high blood sugar level, according to a Sydney University Glycemic Index Research Service study.

Growth patterns:

Jackfruit needs humid tropical or near tropical climates for abundant fruit production. These trees have been known to grow at up to 5,000 feet elevation (1,500 m) and they may reach 30-70 feet (9-21 meters) tall. Its leaves are evergreen and glossy but somewhat leathery. They measure up to 9 inches long (22.5 cm). All parts of the tree contain a sticky, white latex.

The jackfruit tree is monoecious (meaning it has both male and female flowers and can pollinate itself). Because they are so tropical and need humid environments, these trees are not tolerant of drought and they are sensitive to frost. In addition, they need very good drainage. Jackfruit trees may live up to 100 years, but their productivity peaks and then declines with age.

Propagation:

Jackfruit is most commonly propagated by seeds which may last up to 1 month before planting. Germination of the seeds takes 3-8 weeks. To speed up germination soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. According to Morton (1987) if you soak the seeds in a 10% solution of gibberellic acid they result in 100% germination. Additionally, jackfruit has a sensitive tap root, so be sure to take care to transplant it while is  young and to give enough space for the tap root. You can try planting jackfruit seedlings, but will have more consistent or predictable results with varieties that are grafted or air layered.

If you like jackfruit check out this article on Durian – the most controversial fruit of all time.

Resources:

1.Permacopia Book II. D. Hunter Beyer Dr. Franklin Martin.

2. Hawaiian Organic growing Guide, Shunyam Nirav. (1992)Oasis Maui /inc.

3. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/jackfruit_ars.htmlMorton, Julia F. Fruits of Warm Climates. Creative Resources Systems, Inc. 1987. pp. 58-63.

4. Popenoe, Wilson. Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits. Hafner Press. 1974. Facsimile of the 1920 edition. pp. 414-419

5. Tankard, Glenn. Tropical Fruit: an Australian Guide to Growing and Using Exotic Fruits. Viking O’Neil. 1987. pp. 52-53.

6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20198442 Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Jun;65(2):99-104. doi: 10.1007/s11130-010-0155-7

7.http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/unripe-jackfruit-helps-fight-diabetes-study/article8431517.ece The Hindu, “Unripe Jackfruit helps fight diabetes: study,” April 4, 2016

 

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