What is jackfruit? Jackfruit is a unique exotic fruit known for its unusually big size and abundant bright yellow sweet fruit pods when ripe.
It is in fact the world's top largest tree fruit variety. On average, whole fruits are around 1 to 1 1/2 feet (30-46 cm) long, 20-25 inches (50-64 cm) in diameter and usually weigh between 10-25 pounds (4.5-11 kg). However, they can be much much larger.
The heaviest jackfruit on record, documented in the Guinness Book of World Records, weighed close to 95 pounds or 42.72 kilograms but we have also found reports of jackfruit weighing close to 120 pounds (55 kg).
The jackfruit is distinguished by its spiky thick leathery skin, similar to the durian fruit but it is unrelated nor as sharp. Also known by other common names such as nangka and jaca fruit, it has an oblong and often irregular shape.
Jackfruit actually comes from the same family as mulberries, figs and breadfruit. Interestingly, fruits emerge directly off of the tree trunk, similar to cacao pods.
The jackfruit tree species, Artocarpus heterophyllus, grows all over lowland tropical climate zones especially rainforests in the Indo-Malayan region extending from South and Southeast Asia. Called "kathal" in Hindi, it is believed to be native to Southern India, Sri Lanka and parts of Malaysia.
In many countries, jackfruit is prized for the copious amount of food that it can provide as well as for its versatility in both sweet and savory recipes. It is the national fruit of Bangladesh where it is used in a number of cultural dishes.
Outside of the tropics, whole ripe jackfruits are becoming more popular as an imported fruit in other locations around the world. Common now to many mainstream supermarkets, you can usually find 3-4 whole fruits in most produce sections, especially in the summer months and early fall seasons. Sometimes they're also available as a frozen or dried fruit.
While the seed of jackfruit can also be eaten like chestnuts when boiled or roasted, it is the fleshy fruit pods that are the most utilized part of the fruit. They are uniquely edible in both their ripe and unripe state.
RIPE JACKFRUIT - When jackfruit is fully ripe it can turn a yellow-green to brown color and has a fruity scent. When sliced open, it will have a hard inner core surrounded by many bright yellow fruit pods or "arils". Enclosing the pods are many white, narrow fibrous strands. These are usually removed from the pods as they are too chewy to eat. Each pod has a big slippery seed that needs to be cut from the fruit along with the seed coating.
There are technically two categories of ripe jackfruit, soft and hard. The soft version has sweeter moist fruit pods, whereas the hard jackfruit pods have a crunchier drier texture, similar to fuyu persimmon. Hard jackfruit is the largest variety. It is the type commonly exported and the one we are most familiar with here in the U.S.
Taste: Ripe hard jackfruit is sweet with a uniquely firm consistency and tropical fruit type flavor subtly resembling pineapple and banana with hints of durian. It can be consumed straight as a fresh fruit, a dried fruit or utilized in jams, chutneys, smoothies and countless desserts. It is also sometimes cooked or fried and served as chips.
UNRIPE JACKFRUIT - When unripe, whole jackfruit is typically a bright yellow-green color. Called "young" or "green" jackfruit, it is also edible at this stage when it is heat prepared. Instead of a yellow, the flesh is usually an off-white color.
Because the fruit is not mature, there is less of it and contains small undeveloped seeds. The big difference between ripe and unripe jackfruit is that the pulp, stringy fibers and seeds have a tender edible texture. In non-jackfruit conductive climates, you will typically find this type as a canned variety, sold in chunk-like pieces in a saltwater brine. Sometimes it is also available in pouches as a soft-textured meat substitute, which is often a brown color.
Taste: Young green jackfruit has a neutral flavor, kind of like tofu, and is known for its ability to absorb the seasonings it's prepared with. It is used more like a vegetable meat than a fruit. It is often utilized mostly in savory dishes and is currently trendy as a plant-based shredded meat substitute.
Although it's not necessarily considered a super fruit variety, fresh raw ripe jackfruit is a healthy fruit option full of dietary fiber as well as some vitamin and mineral content.
Ripe pods contain small amounts of VITAMIN C, VITAMIN B6, plus notably high amounts of POTASSIUM and are a good source of magnesium, manganese and copper. One cup of sliced ripe jackfruit (hard variety) can contain up to 739 mg of potassium, about 16% the Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie adult diet.
The same one cup portion is also reported to have about 2.5 grams of dietary fiber (9% the DV) and 2.8 grams of protein (6% the DV) with very little fat content.
While there is quite a bit of sugar in mature jackfruit, the unripe variety is very low in sugar and valued for its fibrous and meaty texture, not its nutritional properties. It makes a great addition to the diet when a plant-based meat alternative is preferred, famous for its pulled pork-like signature texture.
While it does have more protein than other fruits, unripe jackfruit is overall not considered a good source so it’s best to round out your meals with other protein types.
As we mentioned, jackfruit is versatile as both a ripe and unripe fruit. In tropical climates, these whole fruits in both stages are widely available. Though, in other countries, like here in the U.S., they are less frequently found.
Whole ripe or "ripening" jackfruits are, however, becoming more common these days at many supermarkets due to their growing popularity. Sometimes their also available as a frozen food or canned in syrup.
When selecting fresh jackfruit at your local market, look for a yellowish-brown color with a slightly softened skin that gives when you apply pressure. When it is ripe, jackfruit also has a fruity sometimes musky scent. Green jackfruit will naturally ripen over time.
Unripe green jackfruit is not usually a common occurrence in stores but often is found as a type of canned vegetable.
There are a few ways to cut and dismantle a ripe jackfruit. We cut it in half length-wise, then remove the pods, seeds and seed coats.
It is usually recommended that you wear gloves and an oiled knife for this process as it can be a little bit sticky.
What do you do with a whole ripe jackfruit once you remove the pods? The ripe pods (with fibrous strands and seeds removed) can be eaten of course as a fresh or dried fruit.
Because there is quite an abundant amount of it, however, it is typically chopped and frozen for later use. It can also be made into a paste and dehydrated to create a type of fruit roll-up.
The fresh or frozen fruit can be used to make countless desserts, jams, chutneys or blended into smoothies.
Unripe jackfruit, available fresh, canned or in pouches, is usually cooked by boiling, steaming or cooking it then shredded it into sauces or recipes.
In the U.S., it is especially popular as a vegan-type of pulled pork as it has a similar texture. It is frequently used in jackfruit tacos, jackfruit curries or is prepared barbecue-style.