No, as the name implies, jackfruit is not a vegetable. But we believe this fruit belongs on these pages because – like its cousin breadfruit – it is often cooked and served like a vegetable.
The biggest fruit in the world
The fruit has its origins in India but feels at home in much of South East Asia and can weigh more than 40 kilos (88 US pounds). Unfortunately, it is not very nutritious. It contains little protein and few calories, but is rich in fibers and some vitamins.
”Tastes like chicken”
Enthusiasts claim that unripe (see below) and cooked jackfruit tastes like chicken, which is stretching it a bit. “Tastes like artichoke” is probably more like it. However, the fruit has a fibrous and elastic quality which worlks quite well for bringing a meaty texture to vegetarian food.
Jackfruit is not durian
Jackfruit is a big, green fruit that grows in trees and is covered with small, non-sharp spikes. It should not be confused with the infamous, stinking fruit known as durian. The latter is similar in appearance, but has bigger spikes. And, most important, the flesh smells like offal.
Thanks to its growing popularity among vegetarians, jackfruit is becoming more common outside South East Asia. Your best chances in other parts of the world are in shops that cater to the Asian and/or vegetarian cuisine.
Choosing fresh jackfruit
Handling the big fruits is hard work, not least the sticky job of extracting the meaty fruit capsules. Your supplier will often have made life easier for you (and for themselves) by portioning and packaging the fruit before selling it.
Unripe or ripe?
That is the question. Young – unripe – jackfruit has white or slightly green meat that is fibrous and suitable for cooking. Ripe jackfruit has well developed capsules of yellow/orange fruit. The flavor is “tropical” but mild and the fruit can be enjoyed raw. How to tell the difference:
- Smaller, more even spikes
- Even shape and hard
- Lighter green color
- No or little smell
- More developed and thicker spikes
- Swelling shapes and soft
- Darker green color
- Fruit smell (like fruit chewing gum…)
Jackfruit in brine
Jackfruit in cans is becoming a common sight in many shops. The unripe, meaty kind is kept in brine and is suitable for cooking. Let the fruit drain before you prepare it.
Jackfruit in syrup
“Sweet jackfruit” consists of the ripe, yellow fruit capsules and is used in sweets and pastries. Unfortunately, all fruits that are kept in syrup in cans have a tendency to taste the same, but try jackfruit in syrup for bringing new character to your best desserts.
With the canned version of the fruit you don’t need to worry about storage, just keep an eye on the best before-date. But you can expect to see more packaging solutions with the fresh product. The general rule is to store fresh fruit for the shortest period possible.
The “meat” from an opened jackfruit should be stored in the fridge and eaten as soon as possible. Trust your nose – and remember that jackfruit has a smell that is less “fresh” than other fruits (e g citrus) from the start. Cooked fruit can be stored for longer, like any vegetable.
All you have to do to prepare canned jackfruit is to remove the brine. Avoid cutting it into small pieces if you want as much as possible of the “meat-like” texture when cooked.
Your method for prepoaring fresh jackfruit depends on both the size and the ripeness of the fruit. But let’s say you have a fruit weighing 7-8 kilos (15-18 pounds):
Unripe fresh jackfruit
- Remove the coarse skin and the tough “log” that runs through the middle of the fruit. It’s the soft pulp between the skin and the log you want to remove and eat. Use a big, sharp knife and the technique you find most appropriate, but:
- Be careful to avoid the sticky latex from the skin exterior ending up in the fruit pulp.
Ripe fresh jackfruit
- Cleave the fruit down the middle lengthwise. (And again if necessary for the next step.)
- Use your hands to pluck out the “capsules” of ripe, yellow fruit pulp. You can expect some resistance with the stringy, white fibers holding everything in place (and that you can put aside and cook like a vegetable).
- Also remove the seeds. The big seeds in a ripe fruit can be roasted, not unlike pumpkin seeds.
Beware of sticky latex resin
The trees bleed profusely, but a cut in a jackfruit can also result in a rubbery resin that gets stuck everywhere. It can also burn sensitive skin. Use rubber gloves, or:
The coconut oil trick
Grease both hands and the blade of the knife with coconut oil. This makes it easier to handle the sticky resin, and also easier to wash it away afterwards.
The unripe, green/white fruit pulp can be cooked in just about any way you want. The ripe, yellow/orange fruit pulp can be eaten raw.
Does not need cooking
Unripe jackfruit can also be eaten raw, but will taste of almost nothing at all. Boiling, frying, baking, roasting, or even grilling it as if it were meat is a better idea. It takes a little time of cooking before the fruit develops a meaty texture, but if subjected to heat for too long it will lose its character and meat-like chewiness.
One popular method is to slow cook the fruit until it falls apart, not unlike pulled pork (and sometimes under the witty name of “fooled pork”). Expect cooking time to be about one hour.
Banana, melon, pineapple
The flavor is meek and the sugar content low, but ripe jackfruit does have notes of banana, pineapple, or melon – depending on who you ask. These tropical flavors go well with robust spice mixes like curry, chili, or ordinary bbq sauce.
Be generous with spices
The fruit itself is not very exciting, what makes jackfruit useful is the pulps ability to pick up flavors. There is no need to be subtle with spices and herbs.
Cook the seeds
If the fruit has developed proper seeds, remove them from the pulp and keep them. They can be boiled soft, a bit like beans. If they are sizeable, roast, add salt, and eat like nuts.
Loves it, loves it not
Ripe jackfruit has a slightly rubbery texture that is not enjoyed by everyone. Getting accustomed to the faint but special flavor can also require some time.
Fibrous, cooked jackfruit is not going to be the prettiest ingredient on your plate. You need other colors, shapes and textures for plating. For example red chili, green leaves, yellow corn, etcetera…
Often the vegetables contribute texture and freshness to a dish, but this is not the case with jackfruit. Make sure to add fresh flavors (acidity…) and crispy, crunchy textures.
”On the side”
The texture and the flavor of this special fruit is not going to shock anyone, but everyone might not love it at first taste. Serve it ”on the side” for guests who need a little time to get acquainted with it.