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If you were to skim over any plant-based eatery’s menu, you’d know to expect dishes such as tofu nuggets, seitan burrito bowls, and even faux-meat burgers — regardless of your dietary preferences. To the uninitiated, however, pulled “pork” sandwiches made from jackfruit can make your head spin.
Turns out, jackfruit is a common meat substitute — but not for the reasons you might expect. Unlike many other meat substitutes, jackfruit isn’t used for a high-protein content, but rather because of its shredded, meaty texture, says Ashley Munro, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.C.E.S., a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor in Tucson, Arizona.
And while it may not pack the same punch of protein as legit pork, for example, the tropical fruit does come with a few good-for-you nutrients. Here, Munro breaks down the jackfruit health benefits that’ll convince you to add it to your plate — even if you’re mostly a carnivore.
What Is Jackfruit?
While researchers aren’t 100 percent certain of jackfruit’s origin, it’s thought to be indigenous to India and is commonly grown throughout Asia, Africa, and South America today, according to a review published in the International Journal of Food Science. The fruit has a green to yellow-brown rind, and it can weigh anywhere from 4 to a whopping 44 pounds, according to the journal. “It’s a huge, prickly looking item,” adds Munro. “It’s as big as a watermelon, sometimes even bigger, and folks are always like, ‘What do I do with that?’ so I think it can be intimidating.”
Though fresh, whole fruits are available in some grocery stores, you’ll typically find unripe (aka young or green) jackfruit in canned form or ripe jackfruit available in slices — both of which have unique textures and uses, says Munro. “When fruit ripens, the starches go down and the sweetness goes up,” she explains. Consequently, the unripe fruit has a milder flavor and can take on other flavors while cooking, and ripe fruit is sweet enough to eat straight up, she says.
Jackfruit Nutrition Facts
Jackfruit’s biggest claim to fame is its high fiber content, but it still packs a punch of key micronutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium. The fruit also offers a bit more protein than other varieties, says Munro, and its 4 grams per cup is on par with guava and more than double that found in a banana, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
That said, the ripening process does affect the nutritional profile of the fruit. In general, unripe jackfruit offers slightly more protein and fiber, as well as fewer carbohydrates and calories, than its ripe counterpart, according to the IJFS review. For the purposes of this article, the nutrition facts and health benefits will primarily be focused on young, unripe jackfruit. Here, the nutritional profile of 1/2 cup of canned young jackfruit (packed in water, sea salt, and lime juice), according to the USDA:
- 40 calories
- 2 grams protein
- 0 grams fat
- 9 grams carbohydrate
- 7 grams fiber
- 0 grams sugar
Jackfruit Health Benefits
Supports Healthy Digestion
Nosh on a half-cup of young jackfruit, and you’ll snag 7 grams of fiber, which accounts for 25 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for the nutrient. “Because it’s pretty high in fiber, you’re going to have increased satisfaction and you’re going to feel full longer,” says Munro. Since fiber can’t be digested, the nutrient also helps normalize your bowel movements and keep constipation at bay by bumping up the size and weight of your number twos and making them softer, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Related: Fresh Ways to Sneak More Fiber Into Your Diet)
Supports a Strong Immune System
You may turn to citrus fruits when you’re looking to fend off the sniffles, but jackfruit can also be a worthy addition to your cold prevention toolkit. One half-cup serving of young jackfruit will provide you with 14 percent of the RDA for vitamin C — an antioxidant that helps support your immune system, says Munro. Specifically, the nutrient has been shown to rev up the production and function of specific white blood cells, such as neutrophils that attack foreign bacteria and viruses and lymphocytes that kill infected cells, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
Increases Iron Absorption
The same nutrient responsible for keeping your immune system in tip-top shape is also to thank for this jackfruit health benefit. Vitamin C helps your body better absorb iron, a mineral that plays a key role in transferring oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and supports muscle metabolism and healthy connective tissue, according to the National Institutes of Health. This perk is especially important for vegan and vegetarian eaters, says Munro, as the body doesn’t absorb the type of iron found in plant-based foods as the type found in meat and seafood, according to the NIH. To ensure you’re hitting our iron quota for the day (which is 18 milligrams, BTW), pair jackfruit with foods that rich in the mineral, such as lentils, spinach, and tofu.
Helps Prevent Muscle Cramping and Maintain Fluid Balance
If you’re constantly dealing with charley horses, you’ll want this jackfruit health benefit on your radar. A half-cup of young jackfruit offers nearly 10 percent of the RDA for potassium, a mineral that functions as an electrolyte, helping the body maintain fluid and blood volume so it can function properly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Along with moving nutrients in and waste out of your cells, potassium ensures all your muscles contract, says Munro. “If you’re cramping, sometimes it means you’re dehydrated, or it also means you’re low in potassium,” she explains. That said, “your heart is a muscle and your stomach is a muscle, so we need potassium to keep those functioning correctly, too.” (Related: What’s the Deal with Muscle Spasms and Cramps?)
Keeps Your Body Functioning at Its Best
This may not be the sexiest jackfruit health benefit, but it’s important to mention. The key nutrient here is magnesium, which is responsible for a laundry list of important bodily functions, including managing muscle and nerve function, regulating blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and making bone, protein, and DNA. Simply put, it’s a nutrient your body needs to stay healthy, according to the National Institutes of Health. Luckily, you can score nearly 9 percent of the RDA for the mineral in 100 grams of ripe jackfruit. (The magnesium count for unripe jackfruit isn’t currently available, but it may be slightly higher than the ripe fruit; a 2020 study found that flours made from unripe pineapple and unripe papaya each contained more magnesium than the flours made from their ripe counterparts.) Aside from keeping your body running smoothly, research shows the mineral also plays a role in preventing diabetes, osteoporosis, bronchial asthma, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), migraines, and cardiovascular disease. (And that’s not all — this guide will give you the lowdown on each and every one of magnesium’s benefits.)
How to Buy and Eat Jackfruit
When you’re ready to score all the jackfruit health benefits, your best bet is to stock up on canned young jackfruit, says Munro. “Canned jackfruit makes it really easy for you — you don’t have to hack up that big gigantic fruit to access the yumminess,” she says. “If you’re going to use jackfruit to be versatile with it and put it in a recipe where you really want to be in charge of the flavors, getting that plain jackfruit canned in its own goodness is what you’re mostly going to want.” Most often, the fruit will be packed in water, plus vitamin C and/or salt to help preserve it. Though the sodium content may be a bit high (840 milligrams — about 37 percent of the RDA — per half-cup serving of that young jackfruit packed in water with lime juice and salt), giving the fruit a rinse before using can help remove some of it, explains Munro. Try Native Forest’s Organic Young Jackfruit (Buy It, $3, thrivemarket.com) which is canned with water, lime juice, and salt.
On the flip side, fully ripened jackfruit is an ideal option if you’re looking for a sweet snack. Pitaya’s organic, ripe jackfruit pieces (Buy It, $6, instacart.com) — which contain no other ingredients — has a mango-like texture that makes it perfect for adding to smoothies and yogurt bowls, according to the company. And Mavuno Harvest’s dried jackfruit (Buy It, $8, thrivemarket.com) is delicious enough to be eaten straight up.
Regardless of how you’re planning to use the plant-based pick, Munro recommends playing up jackfruit’s unique flavors — not dulling them down in an attempt to make it taste exactly like pulled pork or steak. “If you’re trying to make it taste like meat, you’re going to be disappointed,” she adds. “It improves your satisfaction when you’re honest about what you’re eating…let it be the star of the show.”
Jackfruit Recipe Ideas
Not sure how to transform the tropical fruit into a crave-worthy dish? Steal these recipe and meal ideas to cop all the jackfruit health benefits — and satisfy your growling stomach.
As a taco or taquito filling. Thanks to its shredded, meaty texture and tangy flavor, Munro recommends using jackfruit as a carnitas-style taco filling, which she takes to the next level with hot spices. Alternatively, the fruit also works with taquitos: Load a small tortilla with seasoned jackfruit and chipotle-spiced beans, then deep fry it for crispy finger food, she says.
As a barbecue alternative. Pan-fry the tropical fruit, smother it in your go-to BBQ sauce, and spoon it onto a bun with red onions and pickles, and you’ve got yourself a plant-based sandwich that’s perfect for a cookout. “Because [jackfruit] is sweet and usually most barbecue sauce is also sweet, I like to have some chili powder in there or some cayenne because I think the heat balances it out a little bit,” says Munro.
On kebabs. Coat the chunks of fruit in a spicy sauce and pop them on a skewer with chunks of pineapple for a sweet-meets-savory appetizer, suggests Munro.
As a sandwich fixing. Steal a page straight out of Lizzo’s book and combine shredded jackfruit with everything bagel seasoning, white wine vinegar, avocado oil, and pickle juice for a sandwich filling that’ll make you pucker, then devour the meal in front of you.