- Each spiky jackfruit weighs up to 35kg – think at least two watermelons
- When ripe, the fruit has the taste of a banana-pineapple hybrid, apparently
- If picked when still green – when it can be immediately tinned – it is less fruity in taste and more meaty in texture, lending itself well to savoury dishes
For thousands of years, jackfruit has been eaten in Asia in place of meat – the Bengal word for it translates as ‘tree mutton’ or ‘the meat which grows on a tree.’ But recently the world has been catching up, and this Eastern treasure has been gaining international attention.
Towards the end of last year, the Wall Street Journal called jackfruit “the next hot trend” in food, while forecasters Fractals said that it was “set to become as mainstream as tofu in the near future.” So according to the well-worn, 14-month trajectory from New York hipster farmer’s markets to London foodie lexicon, jackfruit is about to go stratospheric in the UK right around… now.
In fact, hold on to your sombreros because it’s already happening at London’s vegan street-food and supper-club contingent Club Mexicana, where their jackfruit burritos and tacos are best-sellers. “Customers are always amazed it isn’t pulled pork,” says co-founder Lois Davidson.
Perhaps it is this ‘pulled pork’ quality that has launched jackfruit into the vegan spotlight (helpful when your carnivorous counterpart has been trending on a worldwide scale). Aside from the timely texture (which also works well in a curry), there is its ability to absorb the flavours in which it’s cooked, and the fact that it’s minimally processed, something in which it differs from many other meat substitutes.
So what’s the scope for jackfruit in the UK? Given that veganism is the nation’s fastest-growing lifestyle movement – the number of vegans has increased by 360% in the last decade to around 542,000 – perhaps it no surprise that the meat-free market is burgeoning in response.
According to Kantar Worldpanel, the UK’s meat-free market grew by 6.4% between 2016 and 2017 and is now valued at over £284m. Interestingly, it’s ingredients like tofu and Quorn that dominate the scene, accounting for almost 23% of all vegan food products bought, and racking up an annual value of more than £64m.
Can jackfruit muscle in on soy’s territory? It can’t be grown here easily, so would be imported – but as much of nation’s soy is already shipped in from abroad, that’s not a huge stumbling block.
Another issue: it’s not a known entity here yet, unless you’re a part of the ever-dynamic and experimental vegan community or are totally au fait with the US food scene. Whilst it is available in selected world food aisles and specialist shops it’s more likely your average consumer will have come across it on an exotic holiday than here in the UK.
When it comes to working with jackfruit on a larger scale, it’s not difficult. Sure, supply is somewhat of an issue, but they can get around that in a heartbeat. All manufacturers really need is a Bratt Pan, which will already be in most industrial kitchens. So while I think we’ll see the jackfruit grow from the street-food scene into gourmet burger joints and then into mainstream chains, there are really sizeable retail opportunities in convenience food, whether that’s food to go or short shelf life.
Retailers know that veganism and flexitarianism are huge trends to tap into – there’s massive opportunity. The wisest thing would be to play on its strengths of course; think ready-meal curries or pulled-pork-style wraps. Get the messaging right for your customer – because ‘vegan’ doesn’t always appeal – and I really think this could be huge.