Although a distant cousin of figs and mulberries, the jackfruit is very much its own thing. This unique and gigantic fruit is an essential element of many cuisines across the tropics, yet remains a mystery to much of the world.
As its popularity increases globally, we answer all the important questions below: What is a jackfruit, what are its nutritional benefits, and how are you supposed to eat it?
Jackfruit is an enormous and intriguing fruit native to West Africa, but also popular in East Asian and Caribbean cuisines. In fact, it’s the national fruit of Jamaica, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Green, spiky, and excreting a sticky sap, the jackfruit is far from the most welcoming fruit on the outside. Inside, however, it has a distinctively sweet, tropical taste (imagine mango, pineapple and banana combined) and the texture of shredded meat.
These unique characteristics make it a prized fruit across many cultures, but it is also growing in popularity among vegetarians and vegans across the world as a delicious, healthy, and natural meat substitute.
Nutrition and benefits
Jackfruit is very nutritious. It is low in fat but quite high in carbohydrates and fibre. One thing that makes it unusual among fruits is its relatively high protein content.
Jackfruit is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese.
This balance of nutrients may have several positive effects on your health. For instance, jackfruit is thought to be good for most people’s blood sugar control, due to its fibre, protein and flavonoid content. However, it could theoretically have the opposite effect on diabetics, which we’ll get to later (see “When to limit or avoid jackfruit”).
Jackfruit also contains antioxidants such as flavinoids and carotenoids that, in unison with the fruit’s high vitamin C content, can help ward off both minor illnesses and major, even chronic, diseases. In particular, jackfruit is thought to be good for skin, heart, and immune system health.
How to eat it
Jackfruit can be enjoyed both raw or cooked. Either way, you will need to slice the large fruit in half first, then remove the yellow pods and brown seeds. (These seeds can be roasted and eaten, like pumpkin seeds.)
It’s worth noting that the fibrous pith beneath the skin is very sticky so you will save yourself a lot of trouble by either wearing gloves or oiling your hands and knife first.
Jackfruit can also be bought canned, but bear in mind that you may still need to deseed it. You should also check whether it’s preserved in water or syrup. Obviously if you’re planning to cook something savoury with it, you want to avoid buying jackfruit in syrup by mistake.
Jackfruit makes a tasty addition to yoghurt, oatmeal, and even some fruit salads, but its texture also makes it a very popular meat substitute. Try it in curries, soups and stews, or even as a pulled pulk alternative in tacos and bread rolls.
While popular in West Africa, East Asia, and the Carribean, the US has banned imports of it. Why?
Although safe for most people, some people can have a serious adverse reaction to jackfruit, especially if it hasn’t been properly ripened. For instance, you may be allergic to jackfruit. In fact, if you’re allergic to birch pollen, there’s a good chance you’ll be allergic to jackfruit too.
It may also lower blood sugar levels and lead to drowsiness. Jackfruit that hasn’t ripened properly is especially concerning, as it contains toxins that can release glucose. This is potentially dangerous – even fatal – to sufferers of diabetes, and at the very least might require the dose of their medication to be altered.
That said, much of this is hypothetical. There are few – if any – reports of anyone having suffered side effects as a result of consuming jackfruit.