What’s green, has spiky skin, can weigh up to 80 pounds and is a fruit that’s touted as a meat substitute?

It’s jackfruit!

“Jackfruit is the latest natural vegan ‘meat’ to hit the culinary scene,” said JL Fields, local vegan cookbook author.

Jackfruit, the largest tree fruit in the world, is grown in tropical areas of Southeast Asia, Brazil and Africa. You can buy it fresh at Asian Pacific Market, 615 Wooten Road, or at most grocery stores canned in a salt brine (best for savory dishes) or in syrup (best in sweet dishes). It can be served raw or cooked, and its texture is similar to chicken or pork.

Why is it so popular?

“It shreds when cooked, just like a shredded meat, and is a stand-in for vegan versions of pulled pork, crab cakes and more,” said Fields.

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Nutritionally jackfruit is not a heavy hitter when it comes to protein — it has only 3 grams in 1 cup. It’s the texture that makes it a winner as a vegan “meat.” When combined with other protein-rich ingredients, like beans and seasonings, it makes for a satisfying entrée.

How to tackle fresh jackfruit

Fresh jackfruit when fully ripe will have fruit pods that are bright golden yellow. Young unripened ones are used for cooked savory dishes.

“When people bring jackfruits to the markets to sell, they are always ready to eat and the fragrance of ripened jackfruits would fill the air,” said Anne Doan, who grew up in Vietnam and is a former instructor at The French Kitchen. “When you pick them, they usually will smell very good. It should be heavy. It will still be a little green, a little yellow, a little brown.”

Ripe jackfruit will have a flavor similar to Juicy Fruit gum — a little mango-y, a little banana-y, a little pineapple-y. When young and unripe, its pods are neutral tasting.

While the canned product is a no-brainer to use, get ready to roll up your sleeves if you decide to tackle a fresh one. Cutting the fruit and getting the meat out is a messy task.

“If you buy a whole fruit, you will need a chef knife to cut it in half,” Doan said.

“Make sure you oil the knife blade first. Wear gloves. Put down newspapers where you will be cutting.”

There’s a reason for all this: The white, fibrous part around the fruit pod is incredibly sticky.

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“Gloves keep your hands and fingers from sticking together, and oil on the knives keep them free of goo,” Doan said. “Once you cut the fruit up into quarters, then use a smaller knife to get the individual pieces of fruit out. The pieces you want to eat are the nice golden yellow ones.”

After you’ve torn the fruit from the fibrous material, then take the seeds out.

“I usually clean the seeds and cook them until fork-tender and eat them for snacks,” Doan said. “They will taste a little nutty and starchy.”

Doan says all this work is worth it. But Fields won’t go to all this trouble anymore.

“I bought it once (fresh), and it was a total pain,” Fields said. “I only use canned or packaged now.”

She recommends brands such as Edward and Sons, Native Forest, and Upton’s Naturals.

How to use it

For Doan, jackfruits were always eaten as a fruit or in dessert form.

“I will eat them as is or in a smoothie or milkshake,” she said. “I will also use them with desserts like in a turon (a Filipino fried banana). I’ve never ever eaten it cooked as a meat substitute before. This is a new thing.”

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Supansa Banker, an award-winning chef from Thailand, is very familiar with jackfruit.

“I grew up with my grandma who had jackfruit trees that we picked the fruit from,” she said. “The unripe ones she used to make dinner, and the ripe ones were used for desserts or even snacks for after school. Now I go get young, unripe jackfruit in cans and fresh, ripe ones from Asian Pacific Market.”

Banker makes a curry that she remembers her grandmother making. She also makes a sticky rice pudding with sweet jackfruit.

Vegan and vegetarian chefs slow-cook green jackfruit to create meatless carnitas for tacos.contact the writer: 636-0271.

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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