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Jackfruit is a very large fruit — weighing up to 80 pounds — in the Mulberry family, native to South and Southeast Asia. It’s the national fruit of Bangladesh and grows well in tropical lowlands. Jackfruit is sweet when ripe and is regularly eaten raw or made into jam, juice or dessert, but it has a much wider variety of culinary uses, which makes it unique.

Often used as a plant-based meat alternative

Unripe jackfruit is red in color and stringy, and has been described as having a texture similar to pulled pork. The chewy texture of jackfruit simulates meat, and when marinated the flesh absorbs flavor easily. This is not a new way to look at jackfruit; the Bengal word for the fruit translates to “the meat which grows on a tree.” In India, home to hundreds of millions of vegetarians, the unripe fruit is commonly cooked in a variety of spicy curries. In Northern Thailand it is an ingredient in a popular warm salad, and in Indonesia jackfruit is cooked with coconut milk for a traditional dish called gudeg.

It’s difficult to trace its history in Western vegetarianism, but in 2007 a small vegan pub called Pure Luck opened in East Hollywood, not far from Thai town, that chose jackfruit as its “meat” for tacos, burritos and sandwiches. Within just a few years jackfruit began appearing on national menus of vegetarian restaurants, and now prepackaged jackfruit is available alongside tofu and soy meat alternatives in specialty grocery stores. Demand for jackfruit has led to a new focus on the crop for export in India. Look for canned jackfruit in Asian markets.

Jackfruit nutrient profile

Jackfruit is not especially nutrient-dense; it contains a fair amount of vitamin C, like other fruits, and is also a very good source of fiber. It contains trace minerals like magnesium, copper and manganese, and is about five percent protein — not a significant amount. The seeds are edible and in South Asia are separated from ripe fruit, dried, and eaten in curries.

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