- Jackfruit is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. At maturity, it can reach 60cm in length and weigh up to 18kg
- The jackfruit tree is believed to have originated in southern India and thrives in hot, humid environments. It now also grows in South America, Africa, Australia and the Caribbean, as well as in other parts of Southeast Asia
- In India, jackfruit is often referred to as vegetarian's meat
The seemingly endless appeal of barbecue pulled pork coupled with the rise in veganism in the UK has, perhaps rather oddly, helped thrust jackfruit into the culinary spotlight.
When green and young, the cooked flesh of this tropical fruit takes on the texture of slow-cooked pork or beef, and its fairly neutral flavour enables it to absorb spices and other flavours.
While it works brilliantly as a meat-free substitute in a barbecue-style dish – as Farm Girl's executive chef Benoit Marmoiton proves with his gluten-free, vegan Blue Jack Tacos – jackfruit is no one-trick pony and can lend itself to almost any spiced dish where meat is a component.
Ripe jackfruit, with its soft, yellow, fibrous flesh and a taste resembling pineapple can also be used in desserts and sweets, says Indian chef Atul Kochhar. Thai restaurant Som Saa in London is currently doing just that, with poached jackfruit with Shan-style custard and candied peanuts on its dessert menu.
When it comes to sourcing the ingredient in the UK, you are more likely to find young, green jackfruit already cut and in tins, but as TPH of Chelsea’s chef-director Yogesh Datta notes, whole, fresh jackfruit is available occasionally through specialist suppliers.
Just be prepared for some heavy-duty prep work if you do get your hands on it.
Yogesh Datta, chef-director of TPH of Chelsea, uses jackfruit in a biryani: “Whenever available, we buy whole, fresh jackfruit from our supplier and cut it in-house, but will use tinned young green jackfruit if it isn't. If we have fresh, we cut it in two with an oiled knife and pull out the bunches of smaller fruit inside by hand, removing the seed to use the rest of the fruit. We then deep-fry the jackfruit to be added to the fresh biryani masala – a mix of spices and herbs – before the rice is added and cooked through. Jackfruit is fibrous, chewy and meaty, and thus gives perfect texture as a meat replacement in a biryani. It takes well to spices, holds firm when cooked with onions and tomatoes and imparts a sweet tinge to the dish.”
Benoit Marmoiton, executive chef at Farm Girl in London, uses jackfruit in his dish Blue Jack Tacos: “This dish is a vegan take on traditional tacos. It combines barbecue pulled jackfruit with guacamole, egg-free mayonnaise and pineapple, which is wrapped in a naturally gluten-free blue corn tortilla from a company called CoolChili. We bake the flesh of the young jackfruit in our house-made barbecue sauce, which gives it a delicious smoky flavour and turns the texture into that of pulled pork. Jackfruit has a fairly neutral taste, so really takes on the flavour of whatever sauce or seasoning it's paired with. When it's cooked, we fill the tacos with lettuce and our homemade guacamole, add the jackfruit and top with pineapple. The flavours from the spicy guacamole, egg-free mayo, pineapple and lettuce complement those in the barbecue jackfruit to create a sweet and sour contrast in the dish.”
Atul Kochhar, chef-patron at Benares, uses jackfruit in his dish Kathal Achari (jackfruit in pickling spices), which appears on the restaurant's vegetarian a la carte menu: “It is difficult to find fresh jackfruit in the UK and is messy to cut and prep, so the easiest way is to buy green jackfruit in cans. To make the achari, I cut the drained and dried jackfruit into small pieces and roast in a little oil and half a teaspoon of turmeric for 15 minutes until it's golden brown. To make the sauce, I heat oil and add whole seeds of cumin, mustard, onion, fenugreek and fennel. When they start to crackle, I tip in chopped onions and fry until light brown. Then, I add turmeric, chilli powder, ground coriander and garam masala and fry for a minute, before adding ginger and garlic paste and chopped tomato. When it starts to become like a thick sauce, add the roasted jackfruit and cook for a few minutes, then add a squeeze of lemon, season and serve. The dish could be served with a wholewheat chapati.”