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Jackfruit – An Unusual Fruit That Eats Like Meat

Shoba Rajamani
Shoba is located in Bangalore and describes herself as creative, adventurous, a movie lover, a novel reader, and a badminton player. She dreams of one day writing her own children's book.
Published: September 27, 2022
The sweet, fresh fruit pods of jackfruit are an irresistible sight for foodies. (Image: Abdul Sameer via Pexels)

Jackfruit is an enormous, armored fruit that serves as a staple food across much of South and Southeast Asia. Native to southern India, it grows in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. 

Described by some as a combination of mango, banana and pineapple, jackfruit is known for its distinct flavor and texture. In its various forms, jackfruit can be enjoyed as a fruit, a vegetable or even like meat; but this curious fruit has numerous other fascinating qualities as well.

A distinctive feature of the jackfruit tree is that it bears fruit on its trunk. (Image: Quang Nguyen Vinh via Pexels)

Botanical Characteristics

Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) belongs to the family Moraceae, which also includes its diminutive cousins, the fig and mulberry. It bears the world’s largest fruit, weighing a minimum of 10 lbs, averaging closer to 30 lbs, and maxing out at nearly 100 lbs. The large tree can reach up to 80 feet in height. 

In Southern India, the allées of jackfruit trees that adorn the parallel sides of the highway are as fascinating as they are dangerous. Due to its massive size and weight, falling fruit poses a significant threat to passing pedestrians or vehicles.

The jackfruit tree is monoecious, bearing both male and female flowers on the same plant. The flowers themselves are interesting, as they present the pollination facilities on the outside, while the petals are hidden within. 

Up to a thousand flowers fuse together to form this compound fruit with as many fruit pods.  Each fruit pod is composed of fleshy flower petals that surround an individual seed.

Jackfruit pods are have a stringy texture because they are made up of the fleshy flower petals locked within the fruit. (Image: ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The fruit’s spiky outer skin yellows as it matures. Unopened ripe fruit may smell unpleasant, but the flesh inside is sweet.

Jackfruit wood is termite resistant and valued for the construction of high-quality, durable furniture and a variety of musical instruments. The leaves are used in Ayurvedic treatment to lower blood sugar levels. 

Preparing fresh jackfruit can be a long process, with hundreds of pods in each fruit to separate and de-seed. (Image: ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Tips to Preparing fresh jackfruit:

  • To protect your hands from jackfruit’s sticky white fibers, you might want to wear gloves or apply oil to the hands.
  • Use a sharp knife to slice this giant, versatile fruit in half.
  • Oil the blade, cut off the white, sticky, fibrous bits, and remove the fleshy pods.
  • Remove the seeds from the fruit pods.

Enjoying fresh jackfruit 

Jackfruit can be eaten raw or cooked. Immature fruit is often enjoyed as a cooked vegetable or meat substitute in spicy or savory dishes, while ripe fruits are eaten raw or added to sweeten other dishes, including desserts. Both immature and mature fruit can be eaten raw. 

Jackfruit may appear in your dessert at a gourmet restaurant. (Image: Craig Barritt via Getty Images for S.Pellegrino)
  • Fresh, ripe jackfruit is sweet like honey, chewy and stringy.
  • The ripe fruit can be dried, and used later to sweeten roasts, soups, jams, chips, ice cream, and juices.
  • Immature jackfruit has a neutral flavor with a meaty texture, making it an easy target for transformation in cooking.
  • The gummy seeds can be boiled to make flavorful gravies or ground into flour that can be used in a variety of dishes to give them a nutty flavor. 
Jackfruit is perfectly at home in its native Indian curry. (Image: sfllaw via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Jackfruit for all occasions

Unripe jackfruit can be substituted for meat in most dishes. From fried chicken to tacos, curries, and pulled pork, jackfruit satisfies the vegetarian in all of us. Because canned jackfruit takes on a bit of a sour flavor, it works especially well with strong flavored, spicy dishes. 

Mini Poppadoms (an authentic Indian favorite)

Poppadoms are crispy round flatbreads commonly eaten with Indian dishes. Also sold as papadums, puppodums or pappadums, you can find them at any Indian grocery, or order them online.

  • Rinse and drain one can of jackfruit. Mash the flesh with a fork and mix well with yogurt and tikka masala — a spicy tomato-based condiment commonly used for marinating.
  • Fill the top of the mini poppadoms with one or two teaspoons of the seasoned jackfruit and serve. Kids love popping them into their mouths. 

Mock barbeque 

  • Saute chopped onion in oil of your choice until caramelized.
  • Add one to two teaspoons of cumin, smoked paprika, and cinnamon and stir fry.
  • Add chipotle, BBQ sauce, and vinegar to taste. 
  • Add chopped tomatoes and canned young jackfruit and water, and reduce heat.
  • Cover and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes, stirring frequently. 
  • Remove the lid, and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes. 
  • Serve with cornbread, collard greens or baked beans for an authentic southern-cooking experience.

Jackfruit Health Benefits 

Low in fat, but rich in minerals, fiber, and vitamins — and offering three times the protein of most plants — this unusual fruit is a healthy meat substitute for several reasons. In fact, consuming jackfruit in any form can be beneficial for your health.

  • Improves Respiration: Jackfruit contains anti-inflammatory properties that reduce bronchial congestion. Linalool, a compound found in jackfruit, clears the lung’s pathways and makes breathing easier. 
  • Lowers blood pressure: High in potassium, jackfruit can help nullify the effects of sodium, thereby lowering blood pressure. 
  • Controls blood sugar: Although jackfruit contains sugars, its high-soluble fiber content and B vitamins support adequate insulin production and can help regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Bone health:  As a rich source of both calcium and potassium, jackfruit is the perfect fruit for bone health, increasing both strength and density. 
  • Digestive aid: Jackfruit is high in fiber and offers anti-inflammatory properties. Regular consumption can help remove toxins, relieve constipation or other digestive issues, and facilitate weight loss.
  • Cancer fighting: Jackfruit contains lignans, isoflavones, saponins and tannins — antioxidant phytochemicals that reduce the effects of cancer-causing free radicals. 
Packaged jackfruit pods can be purchased from street vendors in India. (Image: gniliep via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Although it is a seasonal fruit that can only be found fresh in the summer, canned jackfruit is available all year round, so don’t delay — try jackfruit today!