A meatless pulled pork substitute is taking the vegan market by storm. The Spinoff did a deep and serious dive into jackfruit, the most meaty of fruits, to bring you the facts.
I first encountered “pulled jackfruit” on a trip to my local Mexican joint. A long-time vegetarian with a long-time craving for meat, I was intrigued to see if the promise of a porky look, taste and texture could be achieved with a plant. Surely not, I thought.
I was right, but surprisingly, not disappointed.
Jackfruit is like pork in the same way carob is like chocolate. Past the visual aesthetic, there’s nothing convincing about the swap.
As a recent plant-based diet convert, I have become used to compromising on a lot of things. Instead of cheese I now eat blocks of strange squishy yellow mush, instead of milk I now add splashes of watery soy to my coffee, and instead of smiling I now cry all the time (jk). Jackfruit is another compromise. If you’re looking for pork you will be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste damn good in a soft burger bun with heaps of pickles and mayo.
Because the thing about jackfruit is it doesn’t have much flavour. The fruit is solely flavoured by the sauce it’s cooked in, making it a perfect vessel for transporting as much barbecue sauce into your face as possible without just drinking it out of the bottle.
It would take a lot more than a good sauce to make this taste anything like it came from an animal, but as long as you’re not expecting that, jackfruit is a yummy alternative.
So what actually is a jackfruit?
Grown mostly in south and southeast Asia, jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit on the planet. It can weigh up to 55kg, it’s resistant to pests, easy to grow, and its boom in popularity in western cooking has meant the export industry has thrived in areas where the fruit used to rot on the side of the road. When it’s ripe the fruit is said to taste like “a mix between pineapple and mango”. The stringy unripe form is what’s used in cooking.
Jackfruit is a cousin of the humble fig and the tropical breadfruit, and is surprisingly not related to the durian, even though they’re both spiky and huge. It’s also the official state fruit of Kerala, India, alongside the adorable slogan “jackfruit is the best fruit. Its fruit has innumerable good qualities”.
In the past few years, the jackfruit has made its way onto menus all over the globe, and it is now a common find in vegetarian and vegan tacos, nachos and burgers. The whole fruits can’t be bought in New Zealand, but some supermarkets stock cans of it and there are more brands emerging as the demand grows for meat alternatives. A lot of fake “meats” are processed and added to until they resemble nothing like the plants from which they came. As far as these products go, jackfruit is a much less processed option than many soy-based proteins and veggie “meats”. It’s low in calories and a good source of fibre and potassium, but, unlike many of the aforementioned meat alternatives, it doesn’t contain much protein, so you’ll need to get that from other sources.
But it’s cheap, looks convincing, tastes yum and carries sauce like you wouldn’t believe. My meat-eating boyfriend and I had it in a burrito last night, smothered in that delicious Mexican salsa out of the orange can with a lady on the front, and hoo boy it hit the spot.
So whoever you are and wherever you are, Jack, we thank you for your fruits.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.
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