Vegans, vegetarians turn to fruit as next meat substitute

Is a fruit the next best thing to pulled pork? Vegans and vegetarians are using one fruit as a meat substitute in a number of classic dishes.

WASHINGTON — It has a slightly starchy taste, a somewhat gooey flesh and smells a bit like onions, but the jackfruit is becoming more popular among vegetarians and vegans. And a lot of it has to do with its texture.

If you haven’t heard of jackfruit, chances are you’re not alone. The fruit is native to India, but grows all over Southeast Asia. It’s packed with potassium, calcium and iron, and has been called a miracle fruit by many, mostly for its ability to withstand pests and drought. The fruit, which can grow up to 100 pounds, has also been declared a potential solution to end world hunger since it can feed a number of people.

Barbecue jackfruit sandwiches. Courtesy Minimalist Baker. Recipe below.
Barbecue jackfruit sandwiches. Courtesy Minimalist Baker. Recipe below.

But vegans, vegetarians and those interested in the occasional Meatless Monday aren’t drawn to the fruit for these reasons. They’re using the all-natural food as a substitute for meat in everything from pulled pork barbecue, to crab cakes, carnitas tacos and more.

WTOP food contributor and food attorney Mary Beth Albright explains that when the jackfruit is cut open and broken down, the fruit is sectioned into pods, which can either be cut up or easily shredded (hence its popularity as a pulled pork substitute).

“You can chop it up and make it look like chopped up chicken; you can leave it in chunks and make it look like chunks of meat,” says Albright, who has written about jackfruit for National Geographic.

When it’s cooked, jackfruit takes on the flavors of other ingredients, much like tofu.

“If you put on an Italian spice mix, it’s going to taste like Italian spices. If you put on an Indian spice mix, it’s going to taste like Indian spices. I think that is why it has become, in the past couple of years, a more popular thing for vegans,” Albright says.

While some chefs, bloggers and home cooks rave about jackfruit’s meat-like qualities, Albright is hesitant to dub it the next meat. “There are people who claim that it has the same consistency of meat, but there are people who will claim that of many different things.”

However, she encourages the curious to give it a try. In the U.S., young green jackfruit is most commonly found in cans at Asian markets (so there’s no need to panic about lugging a 10, 20 or even 50 pound fruit home). Albright says on occasion, you might be able to spot jackfruit at Whole Foods.

If you’re going to make a savory recipe from jackfruit, Albright says pay close attention to what you’re buying: Avoid the jackfruit canned in syrup or brine; most recipes call for it canned in water.

If you can get your hands on a whole jackfruit, Albright says be prepared to invest some time into breaking it down.

“It is really hearty,” she says. “It is hard for anything to get into a jackfruit, including humans.”

The smell of the fruit is also a hindrance — Albright likens it to rotting onions — and the taste varies, based on the ripeness of the fruit when it’s eaten. She says the riper fruits taste like a cross between a banana and a pineapple, while others don’t taste like much of anything.

“It’s funny because you think of smell and taste so closely related, but it can smell really terrible and taste OK,” Albright says.

Prefer to let someone else do the cooking? Jackfruit has appeared on menus at local restaurants, as well as a few in Brooklyn, Kansas City and Los Angeles. (Diners rave about the barbecue jackfruit bao buns on Susan Feniger’s Street Menu in LA.)

Because of its starchy quality, ground jackfruit has also been used as an alternative to different flours.

“And the reason that’s important is because with climate change, it’s not as easy to grow traditional wheat in a lot of different areas,” Albright says.

Want to experiment with jackfruit? Try one of the recipes below:



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