If you’ve ever been strolling through a supermarket produce section and noticed a rather large (or even gigantic) green fruit with a hobnail surface, it was probably a jackfruit. Native to southern India, but now spread to other warm areas of the world, such as Asia, South America, Africa and, in recent years, Florida, the Artocarpus heterophyllus is finding its way into the mainstream for several reasons.
The oblong jackfruit is the largest tree fruit and grows directly from the trunk and lower branches, making them cauliflorous, a botanical term that translates to “stem flower.”1 Jackfruits can weigh as much as 100 pounds and reach nearly 3 feet in length. Noticeably fragrant when ripe, they turn from green to light brown in the process and resemble breadfruit, aka Artocarpus altilis, which originated in New Guinea.
People often wonder about the difference between jackfruit and a similar-looking fruit, durian. While these two tree-grown fruits appear quite similar, they’re completely different, although both exotic to the Western eye.
Durian is much smaller, and rather than the pebbly appearance of jackfruit, durian has a spiky (read: thorn-like) exterior. Inside, durian fruit is soft, creamy and pungent, while jackfruit is crisp, firm and sweet.2 Horticultural educator Fred Prescod describes jackfruit very well:
“The outer skin of the ripe fruit consists of numerous hard, cone-like points. The inside has 100 to 500 light-brown seeds … The seeds are enclosed in masses of yellow, banana-flavored flesh. The unopened ripe fruit emits an odor resembling that of rotting onions, but the pulp of the opened fruit smells of pineapple and banana.”3
With that in mind, it must have been a very brave or desperate individual to consider jackfruit as potential food the very first time, considering the fragrance of the whole product, but like many other things, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
The Nutritional Benefits of Jackfruit
A study from 20164 indicates that jackfruit contains lignans, isoflavones and other phytonutrients with wide-ranging health benefits, including anticancer, antihypertensive, antiulcer and antiaging properties.
That means eating jackfruit can help your body prevent the formation of cancer, lower blood pressure, slow down the degeneration of cells that causes visible aging and combat stomach ulcers. As a unique-tasting food, you’ll find jackfruit to be very versatile. According to Health.com:
“Like all fruits, jackfruit supplies plenty of nutritional perks: It’s low in calories, naturally fat- and sodium-free, provides ample vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and vitamin C, and packs in a surprising blood pressure-lowering potassium.
It’s also rich in fiber, which means it can help you feel satisfied on fewer calories … While jackfruit is often marketed as a meat substitute, it’s nutritionally more similar to a starchy vegetable than lean protein. A typical serving of a jackfruit product will have 2 grams of protein, compared to 6 to 7 grams of protein in an ounce of meat, poultry or fish.”5
In jackfruit, you’ll also find plenty of B vitamins, including niacin, folic acid, pyridoxine and riboflavin, plus calcium and thiamine; minerals like potassium, iron, manganese and magnesium. Powerful antioxidants help protect you from free radicals and can even help repair DNA damage, according to a 2010 study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.6 As mentioned above, the 2016 study reports:
“The phytonutrients found in jackfruit, therefore, can prevent the formation of cancer cells in the body, can lower blood pressure, can fight against stomach ulcers, and can slow down the degeneration of cells that make the skin look young and vital. Jackfruit also contains niacin, known as vitamin B3 and necessary for energy metabolism, nerve function, and the synthesis of certain hormones.”7
Cancer-fighting properties from the lignans are shown to help block the effects of the hormone estrogen and in turn decrease such hormone-related cancers as prostate, breast, uterine and ovarian, while saponins help slash your heart disease risk and optimize your immune system function.8
Jackfruit also contains healthy amounts of fiber — 2 grams in every 3.5-ounce serving9 — which helps move the foods you eat through your system for faster elimination, among other benefits.
What Jackfruit Can Be Used For
Jackfruit is considered a “sustainable” fruit because the trees they grow on are both drought- and pest-resistant. A single tree can produce as many as 200 fruits every year. While it’s now increasingly easy to access the whole fruit, the time it takes to harvest the edible parts may encourage you to opt for canned or packaged “heat-and-eat” alternatives, but choosing the fresh whole food is usually best.
Besides its imposing size, one of the most amazing things about jackfruit is that it’s a meat substitute in some circles, making it a popular option for both vegans and vegetarians. It has a meat-like texture and absorbs other flavors it’s cooked with, such as herbs, spices and vegetables, so it’s excellent for everything from sushi bowls to chili to sandwiches.
Where it’s grown, jackfruit has had a long tradition of uses, including as a raw fruit, said to taste like a combination of mango, pineapple and banana, or in salads. It can be cooked like a vegetable and used as a stir-fry ingredient, which demonstrates that whether you’re wanting something sweet or savory, this massive fruit can fit the bill.
Because of its starchy consistency, it’s been cooked with coconut milk as a dessert, made into “edible leather” and pureed into baby food, juice, jam, jelly, marmalade and ice cream. It’s been vacuum‐fried and freeze-dried, and as one study notes, it’s undergone cryogenic processing as a preservation method.10
As an alternative meat, it’s worth mentioning that, according to Independent,11 a U.K. publication, the jackfruit’s stringy consistency is becoming the new base for several dishes that assume the main ingredient is meat, from shredded chicken or pulled-pork sandwiches to tacos and burritos. It’s even showing up as an ingredient on restaurant menus for such favorites as veggie burgers and vegan pizza.
Besides the food they provide, jackfruit trees have a diverse set of uses, from fuel, timber and medicinal extracts, and as shade for important plants such as coffee, cardamom and pepper, one study notes. Oil from the seeds also has nutritional benefits, but according to another study:
“About 50 percent of the fruit protein consists of lectins named jacalin that has an adverse effect in the digestive tract. The seed therefore needs to be cooked or processed for consumption. Interest in jackfruit seed has increased as a result of a search for alternative sources of starch.”12
This is similar to the way beans are soaked to neutralize the lectins, which have been linked to autoimmune reactions and inflammation, and have been identified as possible toxins to your cells and nerves. However, other studies note benefits to eating jackfruit seeds, such as proteins, but most conclude that the science has not yet revealed all the potential benefits or detriments.
How to Get the Nutritional Benefits of Jackfruit
If you love the taste and texture of recipes that call for meat but are looking for alternatives, the secret’s out: Jackfruit is an excellent alternative to meat and can even be added to meat dishes to cut down overconsumption.
One thing to consider, however, is how to separate the fruit from its bumpy exterior. The featured video gives you step-by-step pointers for getting to the good parts while discarding the parts you don’t need. It’s important to know it contains a sticky sap known as “latex” that wearing rubber gloves will help you avoid, as does oiling your work surface and cutting knife.
Once you’ve mastered the skill of getting the jackfruit out of its coat, you could use the following recipe, adapted from a recipe by registered dietitian Katie Francisco of Spectrum Health’s Concierge Medicine, from WZZM 13,13 to make jackfruit gyros:
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat until sizzling. Add the onion and sauté for three to four minutes, stirring until softened. Add the jackfruit and cook 20 minutes or until lightly browned and caramelized.
- Add the broth, half of the lemon juice, oregano, coriander, salt and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes or until liquid has completely evaporated. Stir in remaining lemon juice.
- Serve with the lettuce, tomato and sauce.
You Want to Get Healthy, but Where Do You Start?
With the arrival of the internet, anyone — not just researchers and physicians — can quickly and easily access clinical studies that explain (although not always in layman’s terms) the newest observations and discoveries in plant-based foods, including jackfruit. However, conventional medicine as an establishment isn’t always concerned with helping people find the information they need to optimize their health
Whatever question you have or term you’re interested in learning more about, you can click on Mercola.com to get the latest information and up-to-the-minute research. Find out about the health benefits of foods, how to incorporate healthier foods into your diet, ways to prepare them and, as always, the basics on how to transform your health, naturally.