If you’ve been grocery shopping lately, you may have noticed a huge, funny looking fruit in the produce section. (At least you think it’s a fruit?). It’s covered with a thick green, spiky rind and looks more like a medieval weapon than something you’d eat.
Say hello to jackfruit—the darling ingredient and prized vegan-friendly meat alternative that’s getting all the buzz in the health-conscious world. Not familiar with this tropical staple? No sweat. Here’s what you need to know about its nutritional and health benefits and how to prep it. It’s not hard—we promise!
What is jackfruit?
Jackfruit is actually the world’s largest tree fruit—small ones weigh between 10 to 15 pounds and large ones can weigh in at 100 pounds! It’s typically grown in South and Southeast Asia.
Depending on the ripeness of the fruit, you’ll get different flavors and textures. Young, green jackfruit has a blander taste, making it great for savory dishes, while ripe jackfruit is sweeter and tastes like a combo of mango and pineapple—perfect for desserts and smoothies.
Nutritionally, jackfruit is a good source of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fiber and has very little fat. “Jackfruit is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin B6 and fiber. It’s basically packed with immunity boosting vitamins and gut healthy fiber!,” says Theresa Shank, RD, LDN, a Philadelphia-based dietitian.
One cup of raw jackfruit has 157 calories, 38.3 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fat, and 2.5 grams of fiber. “Unlike other fruits, jackfruit has nearly three times the amount of protein,” says Emily Kyle, RD, owner of Emily Kyle Nutrition in Rochester, New York
Is jackfruit good for you?
It might be too early to tell. “There is not much scientific research to back up the health benefits associated specifically with a jackfruit at this time given its new rise in popularity,” says Kyle. However, Kyle says there is research that backs up the health benefits of the nutrients and compounds in jackfruit. “Studies have shown that antioxidants and dietary fiber, like the ones found in a jackfruit, have positive health benefits,” she adds.
For example, the spiky fruit is considered a low glycemic food, thanks to its fiber content, which means that it’s digested slowly and prevents blood sugar spikes. Antioxidants like vitamin C may buffer your cells against oxidative stress and reduce inflammation, which can lead to chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Jackfruit is also full of phytonutrients like isoflavones, carotenoids, and flavonoids.
Plus, adopting a more plant-based diet is good for you overall, says Kyle. “Replacing some meat in the diet with a plant-based alternative like jackfruit is a great way to reap some of those health benefits,” she says.
How to eat jackfruit
“Jackfruit itself is sweet, so it pairs well with dishes that are already naturally sweet, such as a dish with a sweet BBQ sauce,” says Kyle. Her favorite recipe? A BBQ Jackfruit Bowl, highlighted in her upcoming cookbook, The 30-Minute Thyroid Cookbook. “It combines a sweet, Carolina-style BBQ sauce with the jackfruit, served over quinoa with lots of veggies for a delicious, plant-based meal,” she says.
Other funs ways to try jackfruit? Add some shredded jackfruit to your tacos, sandwich or pizza. Shank says jackfruit also makes a great addition to hot cereals, parfaits, stir-fries or topping a salad too.
But jackfruit’s claim to fame is as a vegan-friendly meat alternative. Unlike other vegan protein sources like nuts and beans, cooked jackfruit has a texture similar to pulled pork or chicken. However, Shank says don’t expect it to actually taste like meat.
Because jackfruit has a versatile flavor, it’s a fun ingredient to work with for both savory and sweet dishes. “It’s easy to incorporate into various recipes, taking on the flavorings of whatever it is paired with,” says Shank.
Jackfruit’s hearty texture makes it a good meat substitute, but it doesn’t provide the same protein boost as other plant-based sources of the macronutrient. “So if you’re hankering for jackfruit carnitas for dinner, make sure the rest of your day is nutritionally adequate in protein,” says Shank.
How do you prep jackfruit?
If you’re ready to try jackfruit for yourself, check out your local grocery store or Asian market. And have a good set of kitchen knives on hand! FYI: The fruit can also be sticky.
Check out this video for tips on how to cut jackfruit:
To make it easier on yourself, pick up canned or frozen jackfruit at the grocery store. “They have done all the hard work for you, so all you need to do is open the can, prepare and enjoy,” says Kyle. When buying canned jackfruit, be sure to choose varieties packed in water or its own juices—not sweetened syrup—so you’re not consuming added sugar and extra calories. A number of food companies are also dipping their toe into the world of jackfruit, packing the fruit in a variety of pre-seasoned flavors like Upton’s Naturals’ Chili Lime Carnitas and Thai Curry.
So next time you’re at the grocery, don’t run away from the green fruit. Grab some jackfruit and start enjoying it with your dishes!