What large, exotic fruit is related to breadfruit, hailed as a “miracle” crop that could help feed the world and tastes like pulled pork?
Give up? The answer is jackfruit, aka Artocarpus heterophyllus. Common and relatively inexpensive in the Philippines, Jamaica, Southeast Asia, Brazil and other tropical climates, it’s beginning to show up more and more often in American grocery stores.
While jackfruits are similar in color to the inside of kiwifruit when they’re not yet ripe, and later brown, the similarity ends there because jackfruits are huge. A single fruit can weigh from 10 to 100 pounds, with skin that’s either a tightly packed network of spiny knobs or a flattened surface more like that of a grapefruit.
They grow on trees as high as 50 feet (although they don’t thrive in cold temperatures), making them the largest fruit tree in the world.
Jackfruit trees are perennial, so replanting isn’t necessary. Two growing seasons produce from 150 to 250 jackfruits per tree, annually. That’s a lot of food when you consider how large they are.
While many might think jackfruit is a “throwaway” because there are so many other delicious fruits abundantly available in every grocery store, such as bananas, watermelon, apples and strawberries, this jumbo fruit is much more than it first appears, as it could literally save millions of people from starvation.
One review1 recorded a comprehensive list of the many uses for jackfruit as a food, noting studies in regard to preparations and preservation, and noting its use as a traditional medicine due to compounds such as fatty acids, ellagic acid and amino acids like arginine, cystine, histidine, leucine, lysine, methionine and threonine.2
As Shyamala Reddy, biotechnology researcher at the University of Agriculture Sciences in Bangalore, India, noted:
“Jackfruit is a miracle. It can provide so many nutrients and calories — everything. If you just eat 10 or 12 bulbs of this fruit, you don’t need food for another half a day.”
Jackfruit’s Physical Characteristics
Here are a few more interesting factoids: Jackfruit trees, related to the mulberry and fig, grow not only on the branches, but on tree trunks.
Waiting until they’re so ripe they drop from the trees, however, renders them too ripe to eat; they need to be picked for optimal quality. In fact, unripe specimens exceed the quality of over-ripe ones.
Exuding a strong, sweet, fruity scent (as well they should) a jackfruit is quite dense and milky white when you cut into it, with the outside lining rimmed with a wide lining of hundreds of fleshy “bulbs” or lobes, which contain highly nutritious seeds. They’re also amazingly versatile.
Besides eating the bulbs in-hand, jackfruits can be used in jams, juices and ice cream or added to soups. The fruit can be roasted, dried and ground to make jackfruit curry or stir fry, as well as fruit dishes. NPR’s The Salt notes its distinct flavor:
“The taste was described as ‘mellow mango,’ a little peachy, a little pear-like. The texture was compared to chunky applesauce or overripe banana. Also a little mealy and stringy.”3
That “stringy” quality comes in handy, hinting at what adventurous chefs have discovered: the jackfruit’s meat-like quality many people crave.
After cooking for an hour or so, unripened jackfruit provides the flavor and mouth-feel of pulled pork. In fact, jackfruit is becoming more popular in vegan and vegetarian circles as a meat substitute.
However, after harvesting, jackfruit won’t last more than a few weeks, so to preserve it for later consumption, it’s often canned or dried to make chips. It can also be mixed with coconut, bananas and honey for a popular dessert common in India.