With a growing need for vegan and vegetarian recipes, creative cooks and food companies have come up with some pretty clever plant-based meat replacements. While this is fantastic for eaters of all stripes, there’s a catch: When large communities or cultures are introduced to an ingredient for the first time as a “vegan meat replacement” there is a noticeable divide in opinion formed about the hapless fruit or vegetable. Suddenly, meat enthusiasts are claiming that it tastes nothing like meat, and plant devotees are steadfast that the texture is just like chicken when, really, the poor plant is just trying to be itself! Tofu has endured this abuse for years, and now I’m afraid jackfruit is being scrutinised in kind. Jackfruit is complex, versatile, delicious, and so much more than a divisive meat replacement.
The jackfruit is a spectacular looking fruit. Oval in shape, two or three feet long, and covered in myriad greenish-yellow spikes — it’s a head-turner. You can find the fresh variety in many Asian grocery stores and, while it looks similar to durian fruit, you’d do well to not confuse the two. (The wonders of durian can wait until another time.) According to Healthline, this giant fruit is a good source of vitamins, nutrients and — surprisingly — protein, when compared to other fruits. Peel back the bumpy rind of a jackfruit — past the sticky, fibrous layer — and you’ll uncover numerous knobs of the treasured fruit. Break apart the fruit to reveal its stringy texture (as well as a few seeds). But, unless you’re catering a heck of a party, you’re probably better off snagging the prepared stuff in cans or pouches — a whole jackfruit can weigh anywhere from 13 to 35 kgs.
Choosing between young and ripe jackfruit
The way jackfruit is used depends on its stage of maturity: young or ripe. Young jackfruit has a bright green rind, firm fruit, and a more neutral flavour than an older, riper fruit. A mature fruit will have a yellow or brownish rind, is very sweet, and is bursting with fruity flavour. You can find both types packaged in cans or pouches; however, where you find them can present a predicament.
In countries where jackfruit is native — like India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka to name a few — jackfruit is used in both sweet and savoury recipes, not only as a vegetarian option to meat, but just as itself, providing its own unique star power eaters can look forward to. You can find both the young and the ripe versions in most asian grocery aisles. Most western grocery stores that I’ve been to only carry young, green jackfruit — the type seeing a boom as a vegan meat replacement. Sadly, it leaves those of us looking for the sweet stuff empty-handed, since you cannot substitute one for the other. Let’s look at some common applications for both.
How to use young jackfruit
Young jackfruit is harvested when it is still green, before the natural sugars have developed. The texture of the fruit is firm but stringy, which makes it great for replacing shredded meats like chicken, beef, or pork in many recipes. The young fruit is a little tangy and can sometimes be found fresh, sliced into wedges, but often comes canned in brine. Rinse off the brine before using it and the shredded fibres will pick up a bold sauce very well. Recipes like these pulled “pork” sliders from Makeitgrateful, or Vegantraveleat’s jackfruit chicken enchiladas are good examples of tasty and popular applications. If you want to explore savoury jackfruit recipes that aren’t masquerading as meat, try this Tam Khanun (Northern Thailand jackfruit salad) recipe from Saveur Magazine, or Kathal Ki Subji (raw jackfruit curry) from Hebbars Kitchen.
How to use sweet jackfruit
My quandary with how jackfruit is viewed widely as a meat replacement is that many folks are totally depriving themselves of sweet, mature jackfruit. Ripe jackfruit is fragrant and delicious, with a tropical flavour profile all its own. If not available fresh, it is usually packed in syrup or dried in pieces for a sweet snack. You can use sweet jackfruit in the same ways you would use other tropical fruits: in smoothies, upside down cakes, or fresh, eaten out of your hand. For a refreshing dessert in the summer, enjoy with cold coconut milk and other fun, textural additions like sago, or chewy tapioca.
You don’t have to be a vegan or a vegetarian to eat and enjoy jackfruit, you just have to like good food. With plenty of nutrients, interesting textures and doing double duty as both a sweet and savoury ingredient, jackfruit is certainly worth a test-run. But, before you pick up the whole 14 kg fruit, maybe try a 570 g can first.
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