What's all the yak about jackfruit?

When it comes to vegan “meats,” the label alone can ignite murmurs of repulsion and distaste. The typical omnivore’s perspective on these products can include a lack of flavor, unappealing texture, and altogether disapproval. However, a product gaining popularity at the market is out to change both meat-eaters’ and vegans’ ideas of meat replacements. 

Jackfruit, otherwise known as durian, has been touted as a “superfood” because of its dense nutritional properties. Named after the jack tree from which the fruit is harvested, Jackfruit is known to be a low-calorie, zero cholesterol, fiber rich meat-replacement. Unlike other faux meats, Jackfruit is soy and gluten free, and is naturally rich in vitamins and minerals.

This super fruit’s popularity also can be credited to its unprocessed nature. When harvested before ripened, often referred to as “young" jackfruit, the fruit has a pulled chicken-like texture, creating a more meat-like alternative to tofu, a soy-based protein, or tempeh, a wheat gluten-based protein. The fruit is then packaged as is; no alteration or chemical additives necessary.

I decided to make my way to Chinatown in New York City to further investigate this increasingly popular ingredient. Orchard Grocer, a 100% vegan supermarket and deli, is among the many eateries incorporating jackfruit into their dishes. The small shop is popularly known for its BBQ jackfruit and cabbage slaw sandwich, or, as they call it, “The Emma” sandwich. 

Upon entering the shop, I met a man who referred to the jackfruit sandwich as “the most meat-like vegan sandwich” he had ever tried. As a non-vegan, he said his initial perception was “very chicken vibes,” however he later asserted that the jackfruit itself has “little-to-no flavor” while it does take on the flavor of whatever it is spiced with. It is interesting that even among those without dietary restrictions, jackfruit seems to hold some status. 

After a personal taste test, I found my reaction to jackfruit to be fairly similar to the aforementioned man’s perception. The durian was essentially coated in a BBQ sauce, altogether hiding whatever minimal taste the fruit itself possessed. The cabbage slaw offered a nice crunch and change of texture, while the bread, like a sponge, absorbed all the steam the once-hot sandwich released, deteriorating the sandwich’s overall quality. Judging the jackfruit alone though, I found myself to be fond of this up and coming super fruit. 

So, why is this food becoming increasingly trendy? I contacted a representative of The Jackfruit Company, one of the companies at the frontline of this trend. The Jackfruit Company is turning out packaged and seasoned jackfruit for retail, offering a sustainable, healthy product while also supporting farmers’ trades. Upon inquiring as to why the business was initially created, the company’s representative said that their founder, Annie, “saw tons of jackfruit going to waste in the industry’s origin country, India, and wanted to figure out a way to change that.” The representative also mentioned that jackfruit’s high-yield and drought-resistance makes it an easy go-to for countries with high hunger rates. Jackfruit seems to be a super fruit in more ways than one. 

As the world becomes more conscious of the need for sustainable and “greener” efforts, there is no question as to why a highly nutritious, yet environmentally friendly, crop has become popularized. The nation’s drive toward health and wellness supports jackfruit’s trendiness, particularly among younger generations. This new vegan “meat” option seems to be making its mark across the country and the globe. So, next time you hit the supermarket, be on the lookout for this super fruit.

If you’re interested in creating an at-home jackfruit masterpiece, checkout the recipe below and feast upon a sustainable, nutrient-dense and cost-effective meal!

BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich: A Recipe That Will Feed Your Body + Soul

Ingredients:
1 can of Jackfruit (I use Trader Joe’s because it only costs $1.99 but Whole Foods and a number of other grocery stores carry it too, sometimes at a significantly higher price though!)
4 tablespoons of barbecue sauce
6 whole wheat buns 
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Suggested toppings:
- cilantro
- vegan cheese
- onion
- tomato
- lettuce

Directions:
1. Drain brine from jackfruit.
2. Grab a skillet pan and turn up the heat on your stove top to medium.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet pan and bring it to a simmer.
4. Add your drained can of jackfruit and stir as it heats up for about 4 minutes.
5. Pour 4 tablespoons of your choice of barbecue sauce into the skillet and stir until the jackfruit is completely and evenly coated in sauce. Allow the jackfruit, olive oil, and barbecue sauce mixture to simmer for 4 more minutes.
6. Prepare your buns (I like to heat up a separate pan and toast the buns for about 30 seconds on each side but if you like ‘em straight out of the bag, go for it!).
7. Remove the barbecued jackfruit from heat and place about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the mixture between the buns.
8. Add whatever toppings you have on hand and dig in! And, as you enjoy your sandwich, soak in the effort and thought you’ve put into the nutritious and environmentally conscious meal you’ve now prepared for yourself!

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