If you were to pass a jackfruit in the store (first of all, tell us where you’re shopping), it would be easy to give it a bemused glance and immediately move on. The sight of this fruit is something to behold: green, knobby, up to 36 inches long and weighing anywhere from 10 to nearly 100 pounds, this monstrosity has the ability to intimidate. In fact, the combination of its appearance and the strange odor it emits, some have described it as that of decaying onions, might give you cause to dismiss this strange fruit as a mere oddity with no true use or flavor. To assume these things would be a huge mistake on your part, Jackfruit is versatile, crazy healthy, and being hailed by a growing number of vegetarians and vegans as a delicious and convincing meat substitute.
Jackfruit has been called a “miracle crop” for a litany of truly astounding reasons. To start, its nutritious properties have made it a promising element in the fight against world hunger and malnutrition. Within that rough exterior nestles plump yellow bulbs, each one cradling a thick, light brown seed within its petals. Between the fruit and the edible seeds, Jackfruit lays claim to being a great source for protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins such as Vitamin C, Potassium, Calcium, Iron, Niacin, and even B-6, which is rare in fruits. They are free of saturated fats and cholesterol and, containing about 95 calories in half a pound, aren’t as caloric or high in carbs as other more typical crops such as rice or corn. And, with each fruit containing 100 to 500 of these bulbs, a single fruit yields multiple days’ worth of food for a family.
Though starting a crop of jackfruit trees is a longer term investment than other crops, it takes 5 - 7 years from being planted for the tree to bear fruit, the investment will ultimately pay off with a potential yearly yield of anywhere from 150 – 200 fruits per tree once established. Jack fruit also has an advantage over other staple crops in numerous ways. The tree is easier and cheaper to care for than other food crops such as wheat or corn and, unlike these other crops, jackfruit doesn’t need to be replanted every year. The long term investment will truly pay off when the pest and drought resistant abilities of the tree leave it less susceptible to being threatened by climate change; many other staple crops with half the nutrition can’t boast that.
Beyond the nutritional value of its fruit, jackfruit has abundant other uses. The timber from the trees is rot-resistant, making it valuable for building, and the high quality of the wood makes it desirable for use in furniture and even musical instruments. When cut, the tree and fruit ooze a latex like sap that can be utilized as a glue. Even the leaves are a suitable food source for farm animals. With all of these uses it’s no wonder why Bangladesh made Jackfruit its national fruit.
In fact, jackfruit is believed to have originated in India, possibly as far back as 6,000 years ago. Unfortunately, due to a stigma of being associated with the lower classes, jackfruit has fallen out of favor in India, but surrounding countries have embraced it. Its popularity has spread in recent years through parts of Asia, Africa and South America, with many areas organizing jackfruit festivals. The trees propagate most successfully in tropical, hot and humid climates that benefit from an abundance of rain, but can grow in other conditions. The only real Achilles Heel of the jackfruit tree is cold.
Jackfruit has had only meager success growing in the US, mostly only finding a true foothold in Florida thus far. Perhaps these lackluster results are due to lack of interest; jackfruit has not yet been embraced by the larger American market and has only recently been garnering attention. We may have the odd look and, not least of all, the off-putting scent to thank for that. But, once you open it up, you will find a pleasing fruity scent. The flavor of the fresh, ripe bulbs are like a mixture of pears, pineapples, mangoes and bananas. Some people have even described the flavor as resembling that of Juicy Fruit gum! As delicious as jackfruit is raw, it is when it’s cooked that its flavor truly becomes remarkable.
There are a plethora of ways to prepare jackfruit to either a sweet and savory effect. It can be added to jams, juices, ice creams, salads and soups. It can be deep fried, stir fried, curried or dried. The fruit as well as the seeds can be roasted and ground into a flour for baking. One of the most popular ways to prepare Jackfruit is to deep fry the petals of the fruit into chips that have a satisfying crunch.
One of the big reasons jackfruit is now finding its limelight is the ability of the unripened fruit, or “green jackfruit”, to develop a flavor and texture uncannily similar to pulled pork after hours of cooking. Understandably exciting for vegetarians and vegans, lately jackfruit has found its way into all kinds of sandwiches, tacos and burritos around the US.
So, how can you get your hands on some for yourself? As mentioned, it has limited popularity here and, as such, is a challenge to find fresh. This is further complicated by the natural properties of jackfruit which give it limited shelf life. Once picked it doesn’t last for more than a few weeks, which can be an issue since most jackfruit will have been imported into the country. Also, have a plan ready for when you do get one. After you open it you only have 3 – 4 days to use the bulbs before they’ll turn. A good bet is to can or dry whatever you can’t use immediately, this will extend the shelf life dramatically. In fact, since you’re unlikely to stumble upon one fresh in the store, if you’re ready to try jackfruit for yourself you will likely have better luck in the can section of your specialty market. You’ll also be able to find jarred or canned jackfruit for sale online, but do go for the green jackfruit instead of the kind in syrup, unless you’re after something akin to a canned fruit cocktail.
Jackfruit is truly miraculous. It’s fitting that it’s the largest tree-borne fruit in the world considering all the potential it holds. From promising nutrition, to unique flavor, and practical uses, no bit of this tree is without purpose.
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