If you don't know jack — jackfruit, that is, it's time you did!
Jackfruit is the largest tree fruit in the world. A single jackfruit averages 35 inches long, 20 inches in diameter, and can weigh over 100 pounds! This southwest India native is a tropical fruit, cultivated around the tropical regions of the world. Jackfruit is the national fruit of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine. The versatile jackfruit is increasingly popular in the plant-based movement, able to be enjoyed both as a sweet fruit and as a savory vegetable and meat substitute, making it easy to indulge in this culinary and nutrient powerhouse.
Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is part of the mulberry family, along with fig and breadfruit trees. Its greenish-yellow skin is covered in cone-shaped spikes, protecting an inner flesh of bright yellow edible bulbs, a pithy core, and lots of one-inch edible brown seeds. Depending on variety and ripeness, the flesh may be crunchy, firm, or very soft with a tropical flavor similar to banana and pineapple. In nutrient density, jackfruit lives up to its size: a one-cup serving is packed with 18 percent DV (DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day) of antioxidant vitamin C, 16 percent of anti-inflammatory manganese, and 11 percent DV of satiating dietary fiber.
Jackfruit is plump with carotenoids, powerful plant compounds that give jackfruit its deep yellow hue, as well as boosting its disease-preventing activity. Beta-carotene and lutein are part of an impressive 18 total carotenoids in jackfruit (Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 2009). Another category of plant compound in jackfruit's armory is flavonoids, associated with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. They also may play a role in fighting against Type 2 diabetes complications, including blindness from retinopathy and death from cardiovascular disease (Nutrients, 2016).
The finer points
Fresh jackfruit is available in the summer and fall, but it can also be bought canned and dried. Slice whole jackfruit in half lengthwise and cut from the stem horizontally, like a melon. Remove the bulbs and seeds. Bulbs may be eaten fresh, frozen, or cooked. Young jackfruit has a subtle flavor and is often shredded and used as a meat substitute, especially in curries, and is also roasted and eaten as a vegetable. Ripe jackfruit adds tropical flair to salads and desserts like custards and ice cream. Refrigerate a few days or freeze, as jackfruit doesn't keep well.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)