Should We Actually Tell the Jackfruit To “Hit the Road”?

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It is no secret that consumers are expanding their palates to include foods from around the world. Last year, Google reported that international cuisine is a hot search topic and consumers are eager to “travel through taste.” Not only that, they are interested in the health benefits of these foods.

Jackfruit is among the foods to creep up on Internet “listicles” as the next foreign cure-all. But what does this food really have to offer? Does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.

jackfruit from a tree

What is jackfruit?

Jackfruit is believed to have originated in the Western Ghats of India. Today, it is cultivated mostly in tropical locations throughout Southeast Asia and in parts of Africa and Brazil.

A jackfruit tree can grow to be between 30 and 70 feet. Its fruit is the largest fruit to come from a tree: it can grow up to three feet long and 20 inches wide and weigh as much as 110 pounds (typically they weigh between 10 and 60 pounds).

The jackfruit’s presence in the United States is limited. In the late 1880s, some jackfruit trees were planted in South Florida, but only a few trees have survived over the years, and the fruit is not sold commercially.

The exterior of the jackfruit consists of several hard, cone-like points that are yellow or green. The inside contains many large “bulbs of yellow, banana-flavored flesh” surrounded by layers of “pink, tough, undeveloped perianths and a central, pithy core.”

inside of a jackfruit

How do you prepare a jackfruit?

While the jackfruit is cooked in a variety of ways in its native countries, in western states most people who purchase a whole jackfruit simply enjoy the fruit raw. You can also find frozen, canned and other forms of jackfruit at specialty stores. This might be the best alternative for folks who can’t commit to sizing up a 20-pound piece of fruit.

It’s very important to oil your hands, gloves, and knife when handling and cutting a jackfruit. The inside of the fruit is covered in a “gummy latex” that is hard to wash off with water. According to Purdue University, a fully grown but unripe jackfruit is your best bet. Ripe jackfruits can have an objectionable odor.

Getting to the edible part of the jackfruit takes some elbow grease. You need to cut the jackfruit into quarters, remove the core and then separate the jackfruit flesh from the seeds. The seeds can also be consumed. When roasted, they are said to taste like chestnuts.

jackfruit being cut

How nutritious is a jackfruit?

Jackfruit can be a low-calorie (only 157 calories in 1 cup of sliced jackfruit), healthy treat and a good source of fiber.  One serving size contains 2.5 g of fiber or 10 percent of your DV (daily value). Consuming a diet rich in fiber can benefit your health in many ways, including providing digestive health benefits and weight management. Additionally, diets rich in fiber are associated with a reduced risk of developing certain diseases such as heart disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes.

Additionally, one serving of jackfruit contains 739 mg of potassium (21 percent of your DV). Many vital bodily functions—such as stabilizing the amount of water in your cells, maintaining electrolyte balance, and ensuring healthy joints and the contraction of bones and smooth muscles—require potassium.  Potassium also impacts cardiovascular health by controlling the electrical activity of the heart and lowering blood pressure, especially among people who have or are at risk of having elevated blood pressure.

Jackfruit is being hailed as a meat substitute because it has a texture similar to pulled pork. The problem with substituting jackfruit for meat is that jackfruit doesn’t come close to being a good source of protein. One serving of jackfruit contains just 2.84 g of protein. That is a mere 6 percent of your DV. While you might be getting a texture similar to meat, you aren’t getting a nutritional equivalent when it comes to protein.  Additionally, jackfruit is an incomplete protein, meaning it doesn’t contain all of the essential amino acids. Make sure to pair it with a source that rounds out its amino acid profile. 

There you have it. The jackfruit can contribute to a healthy eating pattern. But remember, the raw jackfruit is hard to come by and can be difficult to handle (and even a little smelly).

Go ahead and slice into the jackfruit to expand your international palate but don’t expect a cure-all superfood.