Katy Beskow investigates the mysteries around jackfruit, where it comes from, how to cook it, and if it really does taste like pulled pork.
What is jackfruit?
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit grown in southeast Asia, and more recently in Mexico (in smaller quantities).
It’s become a very popular ingredient in cooking as jackfruit recipes can cover both sweet and savoury options, so it’s incredibly versatile.
It is one of the largest tree fruits in the world, with fruits weighing anything up to 18kg! It has spikey, green skin and a pale fruit inside.
Ripe jackfruit is very sweet, with an almost banana-like flavour, and a texture similar to mango. When the fruit has ripened, the skin changes from green to yellow, and it has a distinctive, pungent aroma.
Ripe jackfruit is mainly used as an ingredient in desserts, especially Indonesian desserts including Es Teller. It can also be dried into a chewy snack.
Young, unripened jackfruit is mainly canned at source, and is what we know and love as the “plant meat” that can be cooked into savoury dishes as a replacement for “pulled” meat, as it has a similar texture.
What does jackfruit taste like?
Young jackfruit has a very mild, unremarkable flavour compared to when it has ripened. This makes it the perfect base to add in flavours from spices, sauces, and herbs.
With this in mind, you can make jackfruit taste of just about anything to suit your choice of cuisine. You can use it any a variety of dishes from takeaway classics such as vegan duck pancakes, to the seaside favourite jackfruit “fish” cakes.
Where the magic lies with young jackfruit is in the texture; it has a dense, tender but fibrous texture, similar to that of meat. It makes a particularly good alternative to “pulled” meats such as pork, beef, chicken, and turkey.
Think of young jackfruit in a similar way to tofu – without adding in a few flavours of your choice, it can be bland to eat, but once marinated in flavours, it absorbs them fully and becomes the star of the show.
Ripe jackfruit tastes almost banana-like, while the young fruit has a milk flavour that makes it great for infusing with other flavours.
Does it make a good replacement for pulled pork?
Young jackfruit is the perfect replacement for pulled pork, due to its tender but fibrous texture that falls apart with every bite, and the fact it can be easily marinated with flavourings of your choice.
As young jackfruit has a naturally “pulled” texture, it does not need slow cooking for hours the way pork would, meaning the overall cooking time is far less.
Marinade the young jackfruit for about an hour in smoked paprika, cumin, brown sugar and a good squeeze of barbecue sauce, and pour over any excess sauce in the pan for a sticky glaze.
Another popular way to create jackfruit pulled “pork” is by reducing cola until sticky, and glazing it before cooking through in a frying pan.
Due to the high fibre content of jackfruit, it is filling and healthy, as well as being naturally low in fat. It is not particularly high in protein, however, so be sure to combine with some vegan protein ingredients such as black beans, green lentils, and toasted pine nuts.
It naturally has a 'pulled' texture and absorbs marinades well so is a great replacement for meat in vegan pulled pork dishes. Image credit: Lauri Patterson via Getty images
Is canned the best way to buy it?
Young jackfruit is canned at source before it ripens and becomes too sweet to use in savoury dishes, so this method of preservation means that we can enjoy it on the other side of the world.
Choose canned jackfruit that is in water or brine, not a sugar syrup, and be sure to drain it and rinse thoroughly (to remove any canned taste and excess liquid) before cooking.
The canned version has a long shelf life, making it the perfect store cupboard essential in any kitchen as it is versatile to use, as well as always being on hand for any dinner dilemmas.
Canning as a preservation method means that it retains its vitamin, mineral and fibre content without any chemical additives. Young jackfruit can be eaten raw, but it tastes at its best when it is lightly cooked; chunks in cans are pre-chopped to save you the time and effort, which is always a win!
The cans often hold 400-500g of jackfruit, which is the perfect amount to use in most recipes to feed 2-4 people (depending on the volumes of other ingredients used in the recipes), so there will be little to no waste. Remember to rinse and recycle your can after use.
For savoury dishes, opt for the canned version in water or brine. Image credit: Firdausiah Mamat via Getty Images
How to cook jackfruit
Canned, young jackfruit is very easy to cook, and is versatile enough to taste of anything you want it to!
From vegan tacos, creamy curries, “tuna” sandwiches, and hearty casseroles, jackfruit really is a vegan’s best friend in the kitchen.
Follow these steps for how to cook jackfruit; how you flavour it is up to you.
- Open the can and thoroughly drain away the water or brine
- Break and separate the chunks between your fingers. If there are any tough parts, simply chop them finely with a knife (there is no need to discard them).
- Place the loosened, shredded pieces into a sieve or colander and rinse thoroughly with water that is just off the boil. Not only does this remove any unpleasant “canned” flavour, but it gently softens the jackfruit which will help it to absorb flavours more effectively, and cook evenly
- If your recipe calls for marinading, add the rinsed fruit into a bowl and stir through the marinade. Leave it for at least 4 hours to absorb the flavours.
- Alternatively, add the rinsed fruit into a pan with your favourite seasonings and sauté until hot, throw into a tomato or coconut-based curry (nearing the end of cooking) for 5 minutes, or throw into a slow cooker with root vegetables and herbs for 6-8 hours until everything is tender. You can also stir rinsed jackfruit straight into mashed potatoes and fry into “fish” cakes, or press into burgers with beans, spices and breadcrumbs.
Once you've drained the can, break it apart with your fingers or a knife for tougher bits. Then, marinade and season it before cooking. Image credit: Nungning20 via Getty Images
What is jackfruit pepperoni?
Jackfruit pepperoni is a vegan alternative to the American salami that is flavoured with smoked spices and chilli, and uses it as an ethical alternative to pork and beef.
In the UK, there are a handful of clever companies selling plant-based pepperoni made from jackfruit in supermarkets and from online food retailers.
These products are ready in minutes, making them a convenient full-of- flavour addition to so many meals like vegan pizza. They’re a great way to enjoy all that this versatile ingredient has to offer.
Some Italian and pizza chain restaurants in the UK also offer jackfruit pepperoni as a topping, so vegans can enjoy that smoky, meaty taste without the cruelty.
You can even use it to make a realistic vegan pepperoni alternative for pizzas. Image credit: Jeppe Vildbaek via Getty Images
Is jackfruit high in sugar?
Young jackfruit contains much less sugar than when it is ripe. Ripe jackfruit is used mainly as an ingredient in vegan desserts, or as a dried fruit snack, as it is sugary and perfectly sweet.
As the young version hasn’t ripened, it contains much less sugar, and the taste difference is remarkable. The lower natural sugar quantity is what makes it perfect for adding to savoury dishes.
As jackfruit has a high fibre content, it is thought to balance and regulate the sugar when consumed, giving it a low-medium Glycaemic Index.
Where to buy jackfruit
Canned young jackfruit is available in most UK supermarkets, including some discount supermarkets. It is priced around £1-2, depending on the brand (as of 2022).
Controversially, canned young jackfruit can often be found with canned sweet fruits, but it has also been spotted in the free-from and world food aisles.
Look out for the words “young”, “unripe” or “green” jackfruit in brine or water to ensure you’re not purchasing the ripe version.
If you wish to try sweet, ripe jackfruit, you’ll find the dried fruits that are perfect for snacking in Indian supermarkets. There’s also cans of it in syrup in many supermarket world food aisles.
If you’re looking to purchase a whole fresh one (which is likely to be ripe), contact a specialist supplier at a tropical fruit market who will source this product for you.
Now that you know everything there is to know about this mock meat, give it a try with these vegan jackfruit recipes.