The Buzz: Jackfruit

What’s the buzz?
Jackfruit tastes like meat but is way better for you.

What does the science say?
Jackfruit is a plant relative of the fig — though with a very different taste and texture — that is native to Southeast Asia. The fruit is commonly found in regional cuisines of India, Bangladesh, and Thailand, and is eaten both young or “green” in savory dishes as well as when it’s ripened and sweet. In the U.S., many of those following a vegan diet have known about the secret benefits of jackfruit for some time — thanks to its use in vegan barbecue pulled “pork” — and now non-vegans have caught on.

The flesh of the young, unripe jackfruit is what has everyone swooning. Its fibrous texture is similar to that of cooked poultry or pork, and its neutral flavor allows it to take on the flavor of whatever seasoning you add to it. Combined with the fact that it’s a good source of fiber, potassium, and magnesium, as well as low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, it might sound like the perfect animal-protein replacement…almost too good to be true.

And that’s exactly where it falls short — in its protein content. With around 2 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving, it contains significantly less protein than a similar portion of chicken (22 grams), salmon (26 grams), tofu (15 grams), and even lentils (8 grams). However, that doesn’t mean jackfruit should be off the menu. Most Americans already consume plenty of protein. So, instead of a protein substitute, consider it a way to boost your intake of plants (something many American diets are lacking) without missing the flavor and texture of meat.

Jackfruit is now available in many grocery stores and is typically found packaged in pouches in the refrigerated or freezer sections or in cans. You can even find it already prepared with sauces or seasoning like barbecue, teriyaki, or lemon pepper flavors. While convenient,  watch out for added sugar and sodium — sneaky additions that can change overall nutritional value. If you’re looking for the whole fruit, search a local Asian market. But be forewarned — they can be heavy and difficult to handle!

What’s the takeaway?
Jackfruit is a versatile ingredient that can be used in anything from tacos to dips and dessert. It imitates the texture of meat and can be a nice low-calorie, high-fiber replacement in recipes that call for a shredded or pulled meat. However, do not rely on it for your daily protein needs.

Read more about jackfruit and learn 10 ways to use it.