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Four things to know about jackfruit

It’s more than a meat alternative!
Jackfruit is the world’s largest tree-borne fruit.

Cracking the code

In many South Asian countries, jackfruit, a cousin to the fig, is a vital source of starch and nutrients including vitamins C and B-complex as well as potassium. India is the world’s largest producer of jackfruit, followed by Bangladesh. However, 40% of Bangladesh’s output is lost to spoilage because fruiting of most jackfruit trees is a high-yield (about 100 fruits per tree) and short-lived affair from May to mid-June called “Modhu Mash” (honey month) when mango, litchi and pineapple are also in season. 

In partnership with two agricultural bodies in Bangladesh, the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) sequenced the genome of a year-round jackfruit tree. “Year-round fruiting would create more even supply, making the yield easier to handle,” says Dr. Andrew Sharpe, Bangabandhu research chair in food security at GIFS. This could help support a commercial supply chain in Bangladesh amid growing global demand for the fruit. Zion Market Research estimates the jackfruit market will surpass US$453 million by 2030, a 35% increase from $327 million in 2022. Canada could see “higher growth,” notes the report, because of the growing vegan population.

The heavyweight

With its yellow flesh found inside a spiky melon-shaped shell, jackfruit is the world’s largest tree-borne fruit, weighing anywhere from 10 pounds to more than 100 pounds, and grows mostly on the tree’s trunk rather than its branches.

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Claim to fame

Jackfruit has gained notoriety for its natural, stringy texture before it fully ripens that is reminiscent of shredded meat—it’s a popular substitute for meat in vegan and vegetarian dishes. And, because it lacks a strong flavour profile, jackfruit can easily be adapted to many dishes including curries, stews, tacos and more.

READ: Innovation continues to power the plant-based food movement

Montreal-based Cha’s Organics, a brand of plant-based and gluten-free foods, sells young jackfruit canned in brine, which can be rinsed, cooked and prepared to look like pulled pork. “It’s the top-selling SKU in our canned fruit line by a wide margin over pineapple, mango and tropical fruit,” says Marise May, co-founder and vice-president of marketing at Cha’s Organics. LoblawsSobeysMetro and Nature’s Emporium carry the product.

Ecoideas, a manufacturer of natural health products based in Newmarket, Ont., offers frozen, pre-prepared jackfruit shreds in three varieties: Plain, Spicy Mexican and Spicy BBQ. Denver-based Jack & Annie’s, which launched at Whole Foods Markets in Canada this past spring, makes frozen, ready-to-cook jackfruit tenders, patties, nuggets, buffalo wings and more.

Nature’s Emporium has found success with a “pulled pork” jackfruit sandwich on its grab-and-go menu. “We sample it in our stores and talk the benefits of this great fruit to consumers,” says Gina Nagel, event co-ordinator and a certified holistic nutritionist at the Ontario chain. “Quickly, it has become one of our most-loved sandwiches for all customers, not just for those who don’t eat meat.”

Sweeter with age

Jackfruit isn’t a one-trick pony. When the fruit fully ripens, the flesh sweetens and “tastes like a mix of tropical fruits—banana, mango, pineapple, grapefruit, all in one,” says Sharpe from GIFS. “It’s really quite nice.” 

Lucky Supermarket, an ethnic grocer in Western Canada, imports ripe jackfruit from Mexico between March and July and from Thailand and Vietnam from October to May. “We’ve been carrying it for years,” says Hong Nguyen, general manager at Lucky Supermarket. “When in season, we sell bulk as a whole or in cut pieces.” 

Cha’s Organics markets a sweet jackfruit in pineapple juice to be enjoyed straight from the can, in smoothies or desserts and Save-On-Foods carries Fiesta brand jackfruit ice cream.

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s June/July 2024 issue.

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