Jackfruit is a unique tropical fruit indigenous to the rain forests of India. It is cultivated in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka and was introduced to the States around the early 1800’s. In South and Southeast India, the fruit’s popularity ranks with the ever-popular mango and banana.
Although Jackfruit has been around for quite a while, it has only recently recognized a resurgence among vegan chefs. Since about 2004, the fruit was mostly used in Indian and Asian restaurants. Food bloggers began to experiment with the fruit and share their findings. The trend of experimentation continues and now Jackfruit can be found in almost any vegetarian/vegan/plant-based restaurant in a variety of dishes.
Jackfruit often appears on vegan, vegetarian and plant-based menus as a protein substitute. One of the most popular forms is that of “vegan pulled pork”. Others include pseudo fish tacos, beef stew, chicken salad, moo Shu pork, crab rangoon, chicken curry and many more. The versatility of the fruit is amazing and can easily take you to “any country” you’d like to dine, depending upon the spices and seasonings used in preparation!
The Meaty Vegetable
Jackfruit trees are extremely tall and straight, bearing huge green, elliptical shaped, spiky fruits that range in size up to 36 inches in length, 20 inches in diameter and weight from 20 to 80 lbs. Each fruit yields approximately 50 – 500 digestible pods, or bulbs. The large fruits contain yellow-hued, edible pods and nutritious seeds, arranged in a membrane system that resembles the inside of a pomegranate, but on a much larger scale. The arils, or digestible flesh pods, are comprised primarily of the simple sugars fructose and sucrose, which provide energy and revitalization to the body.
Jackfruit is naturally low-fat, cholesterol, soy, and gluten-free food. About half a cup of the meaty fruit provides 23% RDA of vitamin C, 25% vitamin B6, 8.5% manganese, 7.5% iron, and 6.5% potassium. Additionally, it offers about 5 grams of dietary fiber and 4 grams of protein.
The texture of the meaty vegetable is akin to chicken; the beauty of this meaty fruit is, when prepared, it reacts like tofu in that it absorbs the spices and seasonings, making a perfect meat substitute for those who prefer a plant-based diet. The flesh of the unripe fruit is used for savory dishes, where the younger fruit is used for sweet dishes.
It is difficult to find fresh Jackfruit in the United States, but some Asian and Indian markets do carry the whole fruit. The most accessible version is canned and there are usually two forms: one young and sweet and the other packed in a brine, for savory dishes. The brined fruit can be eaten raw and would be nice incorporated into a salad–it’s taste and texture are similar to an artichoke heart or a heart’s of palm. Canned Jackfruit is usually located on the grocery aisle with canned fish.
This recipe has a host of seasonings that make it truly divine! Note the chili powder and red pepper flakes may be added near the end of cooking time in order to better monitor the dish’s heat index. This dish may be served as a main entree or a side. The Jackfruit cooks pretty quickly; the cook time (about 30 minutes total) is to allow for the seasonings to marry and incorporate into the Jackfruit. Rinsing the brown basmati rice prior to cooking may shorten cooking time by about 5 minutes.
The variety and combination of seeds used in this recipe provide a number of vitamins and minerals with each seed offering a distinct benefit. Overall, the combination of the heated seeds provides volatile oils and fatty acids (Omega 6), both of which provide potassium, iron, manganese, magnesium and more. The carrots and peas provide additional vitamin A and folate, respectively, and the brown basmati rice provides dietary fiber and whole grains.
Jackfruit has the amazing ability to absorb flavors and seasonings. Raw jackfruit (above) has texture is like an artichoke heart or hearts of palm–this image is what it looks like after you rinse and drain canned jackfruit.