What Is Jackfruit — and Is it Healthy?
Jackfruit is a tropical fruit that imitates pulled pork and makes a tasty dessert. Learn more about the health benefits of this versatile, ancient fruit.
Fruit as a meat substitute? Yep, when it’s jackfruit. This massive tree fruit flips its flavor between sweet and savory, depending on how ripe it is.
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Dietitian Mira Ilic, RD, LD, explains jackfruit’s health benefits and how to add it to your diet.
The scientific name for jackfruit is Artocarpus heterophyllus. Jackfruit is a tropical tree fruit grown in Asia, Africa and South America. Under its thick, bumpy rind is a stringy flesh that you can eat raw or cooked in a variety of dishes.
Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, weighing up to 40 pounds or more. Luckily, you don’t need to throw this massive fruit into your shopping cart. Some health food stores carry peeled and cut jackfruit portions in pouches or cans, ready to cook or eat.
Like many fruits, jackfruit contains some fiber for healthy digestion and very little fat. A 100-gram portion of jackfruit has:
Jackfruit also contains vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that have health benefits. It’s a good source of:
“The combination of potassium, fiber and antioxidants can benefit heart health,” Ilic says. “Jackfruit also contains flavonoids and lignans, plant compounds that may help fight inflammation.”
Jackfruit’s health benefits aren’t a new discovery. “Ancient people used jackfruit as medicine,” Ilic says. “In folk medicine, where jackfruit is grown, people have used it for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. But no large studies have proven that it has medicinal value, so don’t use it to treat health conditions.”
When jackfruit is unripe, it has a neutral flavor that pairs well with savory dishes. You can use unripe jackfruit in vegetarian curry and in place of tofu or chickpeas.
But jackfruit’s biggest claim to fame is its ability to imitate a barbecue meat sandwich. “Jackfruit’s stringy texture makes it a good vegan substitute for pulled pork or chicken,” Ilic says. “It has under 3 grams of protein per cup, making it much lower in protein than meat. Keep that in mind as your consider the protein sources in your diet.
Look for packages that label jackfruit as “young” or “packed in brine.” These words indicate that it’s unripe and suitable as a meat substitute.
Ripe jackfruit has a sweet, tropical fruit flavor that works well as a snack or added to sweet dishes. When ripe, it tastes like other tropical fruits, such as banana, mango or pineapple.
If you’re trying ripe jackfruit, use it like you would any other tropical fruit. Serve it as a healthy dessert or add it to a smoothie.
Jackfruit isn’t safe for everyone to eat. “If you have a latex or birch pollen allergy, avoid jackfruit,” Ilic says. “Both of these allergies can have a cross-reaction with jackfruit.”
Jackfruit also has a lot of potassium, which can be harmful to people who have chronic kidney disease (CKD) or acute kidney failure. People with these conditions can develop hyperkalemia if they eat high amounts of potassium. Hyperkalemia is a buildup of potassium in the blood that can cause weakness, paralysis and heart attack.
With its abundant vitamins and minerals, jackfruit can be a healthy addition to your diet. “Many people enjoy jackfruit as a meat substitute, whether they’re vegan or not,” Ilic says. “Many Americans already tend to eat too much meat, so a healthy meat substitute is always worth a try.”