By KATIE WORKMAN
If you’ve never heard of jackfruit, keep your eyes open: You’ll start noticing it everywhere.
Jackfruit is a very large tropical fruit often used as a meat substitute. It packs some nutritional wallop, and the fact that you can cook, chunk or shred it like chicken or pork makes it a go-to main ingredient in many vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Its flavor is neutral, and it takes to all kinds of seasonings.
Jackfruit is native to India, and also grows in Southeast Asia, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. It ranges from 15 pounds to a whopping 70.
For cooking, freshly picked, non-ripe jackfruit generally is used. Once ripe, jackfruit can be used in sweeter dessert preparations.
It’s available whole or sliced into more manageable pieces. Unripe, it’s green and unyielding; as it ripens, it softens, turns yellow, gets some brown spots and starts to smell fruity.
It’s also sold canned, sometimes in brine or syrup, and you can find various types in specialty and Asian food stores and, increasingly, traditional supermarkets.
Now, with many people looking for plant-based alternatives to meat, jackfruit’s trajectory is up, up, up.
Robert Schueller, head of marketing at Melissa’s Produce, a specialty produce company, has noted that upward trend for several years.
“It was about five years ago that the fruit started to really take off,’’ he says. “Vegetarians and vegans found out how this fruit could be used as a ‘meat substitute’ for pulled pork sandwiches and as a taco meat.”
As word spread in the U.S. about jackfruit’s versatility, Schueller says, Melissa’s went from selling a few cases a week to thousands of cases a week. Melissa’s also offers plastic containers of jackfruit pods containing just one or two servings.
Jackfruit also is popping up on menus across the country, at vegan and vegetarian restaurants, yes, but also in dishes at more mainstream establishments. Tomatillo, a Mexican restaurant in Dobbs Ferry, New York, has a quesadilla and taco made with jackfruit nestled in alongside other meaty and vegetarian offerings. In Chicago, Alulu Brewpub serves up Vegan Sicilian Jackfruit Flatbread on a menu alongside in-house cured pork belly.
Angela Means, owner of the vegan Jackfruit Café in Los Angeles, says people are turning to a vegan diet for many reasons, including environmental, health and animal-rights concerns.
“We eat meat because of the texture and the spices. Jackfruit is a great substitute,’’ Means says. “It’s one of the best choices for us because we can mimic meat, Jackfruit grows in abundance, and it has potassium, fiber, magnesium, lots of nutrients. We put it in tacos, and we make sandwiches, like a barbecue pulled `pork.’”
Jackfruit Café also serves a “fish patty’’ made of jackfruit combined with seaweed.
“You wouldn’t miss anything, we could give you our taco and you wouldn’t even know it’s vegan,” Means says.
Jackfruit Café tries to educate people in its community about jackfruit and alternatives to a meat-eating diet, she says, predicting, “in seven to 10 years, jackfruit will be as popular as beef.”
BBQ Jackfruit sliders