Is Jackfruit the Next Big Meat Alternative?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Move over, mango, there's a new exotic fruit in town. Okay, so it's not exactly new—the jackfruit has been around for centuries—but it is seeing a recent surge of popularity. With its prickly exterior and generous dimensions (it carries the distinction of being the largest tree fruit), this relative of the fig might not win a beauty pageant any time soon.However, its sweet, starchy flesh is growing in demand as an unlikely meat alternative. Should you make room in your meal plan for jackfruit, or does the hype outweigh the benefits?

In its native South and Southeast Asian countries, jackfruit is a daily delicacy, consumed both on its own and in recipes. The ripened fruit is used in everything from cakes and custards to dried chips; in its unripe state, it's often cooked in curries.  In the United States, jackfruit can be found in both canned and fresh formats, and some companies are capitalizing on the trend by offering prepared jackfruit in various flavors.

"People are on the hunt for new, trendy, exotic produce options, especially as many move toward a more plant-based diet," says SparkPeople dietitian Becky Hand. She also attributes the fruit's growing demand to its versatility—the unripe version brings a savory flavor to entrée dishes, while the sweet, ripe version can be enjoyed on its own or in fruit salads, smoothies and desserts.

How Healthy Is Jackfruit?

According to Hand, the jackfruit’s nutritional profile is similar to that of other fruits. Soy-free and gluten-free, it's a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and fiber. A one-cup portion contains about 157 calories.

So how does it measure up to meat? Unripe jackfruit has a dense, hearty texture, which some compare to pulled pork or chicken. As Hand points out, it does a good job of taking on the flavors of spices and marinades, and works well with seasonings like barbeque, teriyaki, jerk and curry.

Although jackfruit may work well as a meat substitute in terms of taste and texture, Hand warns that its comes up short in protein content. "Jackfruit contains only 2.8 grams of protein in a one-cup portion, and you should get at least 20 grams in a complete meal," she says. "Make sure you get a protein boost from other foods, like beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, quinoa, dairy products and eggs."

How to Buy, Prepare & Enjoy Jackfruit

You can purchase jackfruit whole, pre-sliced or packaged. If you can't find it at your regular grocer, check a local farmer's market or organic foods store. In addition to the flesh, its seeds can also be roasted or boiled as a vitamin-rich snack.

"If you’re trying to follow a savory recipe that calls for jackfruit, make sure to use the young, unripe fruit and not the mature fruit, which is often sold in cans with syrup or the fresh produce section," recommends Dan Staackmann, founder of Upton's Naturals.

Ready to see what all the fuss is about, but not sure where to start? Check out these tasty jackfruit recipe ideas, from crab cakes to pulled pork tacos to BBQ pizza.

Have you tried jackfruit, or would you like to? Share your favorite ways to enjoy this trendy meat alternative.