Poke? So 2017. This year, jackfruit is the trendy new food that’s about to be on tons of menus, say restaurant analysts. But, uh, WTF is it?
It’s a fruit (obviously), but people are freaking out about it because it’s actually a really great meat substitute—which is why it’s popping up on menus as pulled “pork,” “carnitas” tacos, and more.
So, what is jackfruit?
“Jackfruit is a plant that grows from trees in the tropics, India, and Asia,” says Kelly R. Jones, R.D. It’s a large, oval-shaped fruit with a green to brown color on its hard-shelled outside. It’s the national fruit of Bangladesh and is native to South and Southeast Asia, according to NPR.
However, Jones says that in recent years, it’s started trending as a vegetarian meat alternative, “since it isn’t as processed as some other vegan ‘meats’ and when minced, it has a texture that resembles that of pulled chicken or pulled pork,” she says.
How do you prepare it?
Most people buy jackfruit that has already been prepared and packaged. (Companies like The Jackfruit Company, Upton’s Naturals, and even Trader Joe’s offer jackfruit products). It’s sold in packages in the refrigerator section, or in cans in brine, water, or syrup.
The prepared stuff usually includes added flavorings and spices, says Jones—think chili lime or Thai-inspired curries. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad for you, but Jones recommends checking the label to see how much added sugar is in each serving. (And with the canned stuff, avoid ones with syrup if you’re watching your sugar!)
Jackfruit is also sold whole in specialty stores and Whole Foods. However, the jackfruit that’s used for substitute meat is called “young green jackfruit,”—a.k.a. it’s not ripe yet. Ripe jackfruit that you’d buy whole is very sweet…and watermelon-sized, reports the Washington Post. You can prepare it yourself at home, but don’t expect it to work well taste-wise as a meat substitute.
What can you eat with it?
Jackfruit (the young green kind) has very little flavor, which makes it a great vehicle for sauces and marinades (from buffalo to barbecue to curry), says Jones. You can barbecue it or smoke it, or even put it on a pizza, she says. She recommends heating it separately in a skillet (with added spices or sauces, if desired) before incorporating it into the other ingredients for your meal.
Here are some tasty ways that people have prepared it:
What’s the nutrition like?
The major catch: its nutritional content. “I would not recommend it be used as a regular meat replacement due to its very low protein content,” Jones says. “One half-cup serving provides under three grams of protein.” Compared to other popular meat substitutes, that’s not great: a half-cup of firm tofu has 21 grams of protein, and a half-cup of tempeh contains about 15 grams of protein.
“Jackfruit does, however, provide a few grams of fiber, as well as B vitamins,” which will keep you fuller longer and support metabolism, blood health, and heart health, she says.
Jones recommends eating your jackfruit with a side of beans to pump up the protein, or serving it on a high-protein whole-grain slice of bread. But nutrition-wise, it doesn’t quite match up as a straight meat substitute.
Is it better for you than other meat substitutes?
Not necessarily, says Jones. While it may go through less “processing” than tofu, tempeh, or seitan, that does not make it nutritionally superior. And, there are other non-processed meat alternatives out there that are higher in protein.
“Edamame, or soybeans, provide plenty of protein, fiber, and nutrients right out of the pod, versus the added ingredients that may go into jackfruit you purchase in the refrigerator section of your grocery store,” she says.
However, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian looking for something new to add to your routine, there’s no reason not to try it—especially if a soy or gluten allergy has prevented you from enjoying tofu, tempeh, or seitan. Just be mindful that you’ll want to get your protein in other ways when you include jackfruit in your main dish.