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You’ve probably noticed jackfruit popping up on meat-free menus over the last few years.
This is because unripe jackfruit has a remarkable ability to mimic meat in taste, appearance, and texture.
So much so that vegan pulled jackfruit has taken the place of pulled pork, smoky BBQ beef, tuna steak, shredded chicken and countless more meaty dishes.
But what is jackfruit? How do you cook jackfruit? Does it taste like meat? And most importantly, how do we take it from tropical fruit to nature’s own meat substitute?
Read on to find out more.
Native to southeast Asia, jackfruit is a large, spiny, greenish-yellow fruit that grows in tropical climates. A sizeable fruit, jackfruit have thick stalks and grow on the trunks and branches of the jackfruit tree.1
Inside the jackfruit’s skin are chunks resembling orange segments. When unripe, these chunks are tough and sinew-like with a neutral, slightly bitter flavour.
Once ripe, jackfruit flesh has a soft texture and distinctly sweet, fruity flavour.
It might seem confusing. It’s a tropical fruit – who on earth is going to mistake that for meat?!
It’s not so strange when you consider the fibres in underripe jackfruit mimic the fibrous layers of protein strands that make up meat.2 This means that unripe jackfruit, when cooked, is similar in texture and appearance to chicken, pork, beef and even fish.
Further, unripe jackfruit, having no distinctive taste, acts as a blank canvas for countless savoury flavours.
To achieve a good result, you must start with the right type of jackfruit.
It’s important to know that the sweet taste of jackfruit doesn’t develop until the fruit is ripe.3 Before ripening, jackfruit has a neutral flavour capable of soaking up your favourite savoury flavours.
Ripe jackfruit, sold both fresh and tinned in syrup, is delicious as a snack or as part of a dessert.
However, ripe jackfruit is too soft to be used as a meat substitute – it goes mushy when cooked.
Unripe jackfruit is also called ‘green’ or ‘young’ jackfruit.
To make mock-meat dishes, choose tinned unripe, young or green jackfruit in brine or spring water. Luckily, this is how it’s usually found on UK shelves.
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit native to southeast Asia.
It's commonly used in the UK as a meat substitute due to its meat-like texture and appearance.
Buy unripe jackfruit for its neutral flavour or meat-like texture.
Take canned unripe jackfruit in water or brine. Drain the liquid. If you’ve opted for the version in brine, give the chunks a good rinse under the tap as it can have an unpleasant taste.
Then, pull the chunks apart with your fingers, to give the jackfruit a shredded texture like pulled pork, chicken or beef.
As it’s unripe, there may be some tougher parts to the fruit. We suggest adding these to a blender or food processor to mince them before adding to your mix of shredded jackfruit.
Rinse the shredded jackfruit thoroughly in cold water to remove all traces of brine.
Add your shredded jackfruit to unsalted boiling water, and boil for at least 10 minutes to soften. When done, rinse thoroughly again (you want to remove all lingering taste of the brine).
Drain and pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Now, you’ve got your basic jackfruit mixture. This is where you can get creative and customise your plain jackfruit according to your tastes.
No idea where to start? Here are some basics.
Yes. The cooking stage is when the transformation from unripe fruit to rich, meaty dish takes place.
Luckily, cooking jackfruit is simple.
This depends on what you want your end result to be. Luckily, shredding and pre-boiling jackfruit (as above) makes the cooking time much shorter.
Now, you’ll need to marinade the jackfruit. The flavours are up to you, but a simple marinade can be made by combining olive oil, lemon juice, white vinegar, honey, garlic and herbs.
Coat the shredded jackfruit with your choice of marinade and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (up to 6 hours for a more intense flavour).
Spread prepared, marinated jackfruit on a baking tray, and roast on medium heat for around 25 minutes. The aim is to get the edges a little crispy while the rest of the jackfruit stays tender.
As it must be shredded to allow even flavour concentration, grilling large chunks of jackfruit on a BBQ doesn’t really work. (They end up tough and bland inside). However, you can get a grilled BBQ effect by browning shredded, marinated jackfruit in a pan with a smoky BBQ sauce.
Shredded, marinated jackfruit can be added to a hot wok as you might with chicken, beef or tofu.
To achieve the pulled texture, fry shredded jackfruit in olive oil on a high heat for a few minutes until it starts to brown. Then, add a little white wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and spices and simmer on a low heat for around 20 minutes until the liquid has evaporated.
To make a base for a casserole or stew, sauté shredded jackfruit in a pan with olive oil, onions and garlic, adding herbs and a dash of stock for about 10 – 15 minutes. You can then use it as the base of a sauce. Simply add with the vegetables of your choice before simmering for 20 minutes.
Add shredded jackfruit to a slow cooker along with sliced onions, chopped tomatoes, diced carrots, vegetable stock, herbs and tin of beans or pulses. Cook for 3 – 6 hours on low for a warming, savoury stew.
That’s up to you.
Cooked jackfruit tastes like the flavourings and spices you’ve used when preparing it. That’s the beauty of jackfruit – it absorbs the flavour of sauces and acts as a blank canvas for adding your own tastes.
Tinned jackfruit is easy to prepare, but must be rinsed, shredded, boiled and rinsed again.
Jackfruit is a blank canvas for various spices.
You can cook jackfruit in most of the ways you can cook meat.
Yes, both raw and cooked jackfruit can be frozen. Defrost in the fridge for two hours.4
Yes, jackfruit is healthy. Jackfruit is low in fat, with 0.6g of fat per 100g.
Jackfruit is also a source of vitamin C as well as certain B vitamins. It also contains minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium, as well as fibre.5
Jackfruit also contains beneficial phytochemicals such as carotenoids and flavonoids, which are antioxidants.6
After shallow-frying shredded, marinated jackfruit with a little oil for a few minutes until browned, toss it on a pizza along with halved cherry tomatoes, dairy-free cheese, sliced olives, rocket and a little balsamic vinegar before cooking at your oven’s highest temperature until the cheese is bubbling. For more vegan pizza ideas, check out our DIY Takeaway Vegan Pizza Recipe.
Fry jackfruit along with onion, garlic and spices for a few minutes. Add drained kidney beans, tomatoes, a bay leaf and vegetable stock before simmering for around 20 minutes. Perfect served with brown rice, coconut yoghurt on the side and a squeeze of lime. Read the full recipe here: Healthy Vegan Jackfruit Chilli Recipe.
BBQ jackfruit (prepared as above) is delicious in a bun. Add a handful of shredded, cooked jackfruit along with sliced red onion, vegan coleslaw (recipe here), grated vegan cheese and your pickle of choice!
Shredded jackfruit can be mashed together with finely chopped spring onions, cannellini beans, boiled sweet potato, herbs and a little plain flour, then formed into a patty. Fry on each side for 3 minutes, then serve with a green salad.
After cooking the onion, garlic, spices, vegetables and chopped tomatoes, add shredded jackfruit to the pot and simmer for the last 20 minutes until tender.
Be sure to marinate the jackfruit in your favourite spices beforehand – garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric and curry powder all work and give the jackfruit a good colour.
When properly prepared, jackfruit can substitute meat in most dishes.
The marinade stage is important to impart flavour, as jackfruit is bland on its own.
Jackfruit is a healthy addition to any diet.
Joined Holland & Barrett: Aug 2020
Master’s Degree in Food Science and Technology Engineering and BSc in Dietetics
Andrea started her career as a clinical dietitian and lecturer at a university hospital, managing the dietetic treatment of patients with various diseases, and giving lectures in nutrition for medical students.
Later she worked as a Product Developer at a sport nutrition company where she developed food supplements and fortified foods, and ensured that the products complied with the relevant regulations.