green jackfruit growing on tree

What Is Jackfruit? Health Benefits, Nutrition & Uses

[toc]Our first encounter with this exotic ingredient was in the late 00’s. Pure Luck, a vegan restaurant in east Hollywood, would use it in their carnitas taco recipe. Delicious!

While they have since closed, today you can probably find it at fifty places within the same zip code. After tofu, tempeh, seitan, and Beyond Burger, it may be the most popular vegan meat in America. With no signs of its popularity slowing anytime soon, you should know what it is.

What is jackfruit?

Native to southern India, the jackfruit tree grows up to 80 ft (25 m) in height and produces massive fruits which each weigh up to 65 lbs (30 kg). The inedible green rind is removed and the stringy yellow flesh, known as jackfruit meat, is separated from the white fibrous walls. The seeds are removed and the flesh is cooked like a starchy vegetable. It can also be pickled/canned or eaten fresh.

It’s one of the most popular fruits grown in southern India. It ranks just behind mangoes and bananas for output in the region. Over 100,000 jackfruit trees populate backyards, each producing a typical annual yield of 150+ massive fruits – that’s up to thousands of pounds, per tree.

Within just 3-8 months of the flower buds appearing on a mature tree, all of that food is produced. That’s why many hail it as a miracle fruit which can help fight hunger.

Jackfruit comes from southwest India, though today it is also grown throughout much of South and Southeast Asia. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it’s the national fruit. Some US imports come from Vietnam. (1)

what the inside of a fresh jackfruit looks like when cut open
This is what the inside looks like. You eat the yellow parts and discard the white areas, seeds, and hard rind.

Where did jackfruit get its name?

The origin of the English name came from the Portuguese name for it which is jaca. Even though it’s spelled differently, jaca sounds similar to chakka, which is the Malayalam name for it. Malayalam is a language spoken across the Indian state of Kerala, which is where most of the fruit is grown.

Aside from jaca, other names for jackfruit include simply jack/jak, jack tree, and fenne.

The scientific name for the most common species eaten is Artocarpus heterophyllus.

What does it taste like?

What jackfruit tastes like varies with ripeness. The immature or green jackfruit has no odor. When raw, its flavor is a cross between a pineapple and a sweet potato. Slightly tangy and sweet, but not intense. Very chewy with little moisture.

You rarely, if ever, see fresh whole jackfruit for sale in the US or Canada. If you do find it, count on it being conventional and not organic.

whole jackfruit for sale

Out of all places, we spotted some for sale at a Whole Foods in Milwaukee, yet we never see them at their Los Angeles locations. Nor do traditional grocers like Kroger or Walmart carry them, obviously. Given that they can cost up to $50 or more per fruit and are a hassle to prepare, Americans aren’t quite up for that.

Fully ripe jackfruit smells bad but tastes good regardless. It’s a musky smell like body odor. Not as bad as durian fruit, though it’s not a scent Westerners are accustomed to. This is why fresh is typically sold green/immature. If it is ripe, it’s often prepared in a way that masks or removes the odor.

teriyaki, curry, and barbecue-flavored jackfruit at grocery store

The most common way how to eat jackfruit in America is not raw or fresh. The fruit is sold in prepared form; boiled and frozen or sold in shelf-stable packaging. It looks and tastes like pulled pork. Often it’s pre-seasoned with BBQ flavor.

Jackfruit carnitas, in the form of tacos and faux pork sandwiches, are the two most common ways its eaten. Naturally, it has the same strands you get with real pulled pork. It doesn’t taste quite like that but it’s definitely meaty; more like a thinly ground beef or turkey. As with those, it takes on the flavors of what it’s cooked with.

Health benefits of jackfruit

1. Low calorie

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, raw jackfruit is 143 calories for one cup of 1″ diced pieces (151g or 5.3 oz). Each whole jackfruit bulb is about 20 calories. There are dozens or hundreds of bulbs inside a whole fruit.

Even when cooked and seasoned, it’s typically a great food for weight loss.

BBQ jackfruit nutrition facts

Prepared BBQ jackfruit in a sweet and smoky mesquite sauce is 110 calories per serving of ½ cup (110g or 3.9 oz). That’s according to the nutrition facts from The Jackfruit Company, which is the largest brand that sells it at US grocery stores. (2)

2. Low fat

The fat content in jackfruit is negligible. A one-cup serving contains 1g, which is 1% of the daily value.

When you compare jackfruit vs. avocado fat content, the latter has 20x more (21g of fat) for the same serving size of one-cup. For those trying to lose weight, this makes jackfruit a healthier add-on for salads, tacos, and other recipes where you want to fill-up with fewer calories. Furthermore, it’s without the DNA damaging side effects of avocado, which have recently been discovered.

3. High fiber

Unlike real pulled pork which has zero dietary fiber, a 3 oz. serving of young jackfruit will provide 6g of fiber. That’s 24% of the adult daily value.

4. Meaty texture without cholesterol

Only animal-based foods, such as meat, dairy and eggs, are dietary sources of cholesterol. Since this is a fruit, it’s zero cholesterol, while still providing a somewhat comparable taste and texture to cholesterol-laden meats.

5. Food allergy friendly

ripe jackfruit is gluten free, soy free, and vegan

Unlike seitan which is made from vital wheat gluten, jackfruit is gluten free. Unlike tofu and tempeh, it’s soy free. It’s not a tree nut or seed. This makes jackfruit one of the best plant-based meat substitutes when it comes to mimicking flavor, while minimizing allergic reaction risk.

6. Potassium, magnesium, and manganese

The most concentrated essential minerals in jackfruit are magnesium and potassium, each with 14% of the daily value, and manganese with 15%. That’s per 1 cup serving (151g).

Phosphorus is at 6% of DV. There’s 5% or less for calcium, iron, zinc, and selenium.

Those facts are per the USDA’s data. Some brands report even higher.

7. Vitamin E

While fresh jackfruit provides about 17% of the DV for vitamin C per cup, most imported sources will have zero due to heat treatments such as canning, pickling, or blanching prior to freezing. Vitamin A and the B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, and B6 will remain present, but in amounts typically below 10% of DV.

In raw and cooked/processed forms, the most concentrated vitamin in jackfruit will be E. The Jackfruit Company reports their ripe frozen jackfruit as having vitamin E content equal to 25% of the daily value per 7 bulb serving (140g).

8. Antioxidants

The ORAC value for the pulp of Artocarpus heterophyllus has not been published. According to DPPH, which is another method for testing antioxidant activity, jackfruit skin has the most antioxidants, followed distantly by the seeds and lastly, the pulp. It has about half the activity of grape pulp.

Both of those fruits have skins which are over 10x higher than the pulp. It’s the skins and seeds with the lion’s share or antioxidants.

This suggests the parts of the fruit normally discarded might be worth salvaging for their polyphenols and flavonoids. (3)

9. HIV research

Lectins get a lot of flak lately, but that’s mostly to sell supplements and books. The truth is that all living things produce lectins, not just the eggplants and potatoes you see pictured on those spammy banner ads.

Research out of The Netherlands and Hong Kong reports that the lectins isolated from parts of the jackfruit plant exhibit anti-HIV activity in lab testing. It’s unknown though if there’s any anti-viral activity in humans after consumption. (4)

10. Cancer research

sliced avocado and fresh jackfruit in dishAvocado has frightening mutagenic potential, however the jackfruit demonstrates antimutagenic activity in tests. Meaning, it may help protect against DNA mutations. (5)

A compound in the plant’s wood, artocarpin, was reported as having “suppressed colon cancer cell growth” in lab research, by altering certain pathways in which the cancer grew. (6)

Indonesian scientists reported similar, when testing it on cultured human breast cancer cells. (7)

Another study out of Brazil reported that a certain lectin found in the seeds was anti-proliferative in a rat model of liver cancer. (8)

After tested on 3 different leukemia cell lines in the lab, the scientists said it might offer potential “as a novel target for anti-leukemia treatment.” (9)

Nutrition facts

Here is the nutrition facts label for plain ripe frozen jackfruit:

jackfruit nutrition facts

This is the closest form to fresh in most of the US, Canada, United Kingdom, and most other western countries.

Side effects

The most serious adverse reaction from eating jackfruit is an allergic reaction. As with the related species of mulberry and figs, jackfruit shares cross-reactivity with birch pollen and rubber latex allergies. Anaphylaxis after dried jackfruit consumption has been reported.

Less serious side effects of raw and dried jackfruit include acting as a mild laxative, and potentially diarrhea, if too much is eaten.

Raw jackfruit seeds are dangerous to eat because they contain a trypsin inhibitor. That means they can interfere with the digestion of proteins. Boiling or cooking the seeds deactivates these trypsin inhibitors.

Given its widespread consumption throughout India and beyond, the fruit is believed to be safe to eat while pregnant and breastfeeding, though no research exists specifically for those circumstances. (10) (11)

Is jackfruit good for you?

Even though it doesn’t have high amounts of antioxidants and unique benefits like some superfoods, jackfruit is healthy. It’s low calorie, rich in fiber, and there are moderate amounts of magnesium, manganese, potassium, and vitamin E.

Since it’s cholesterol free and has potassium, jackfruit is good for high blood pressure and heart disease, when compared to the meats it can replace.

vegan gluten free tacos made with jackfruit, black beans, quinoa, and dairy-free crema
To boost protein content, we make our jackfruit tacos with black black beans, quinoa, and gluten free almond flour tortillas. The crema you see on top is a vegan soy-based recipe.

The disadvantages of jackfruit are that it’s low in protein, with less than 3g per cup, and has high amounts of sugar, at 29g. In small quantities, it’s still good for diabetics to eat.

Using a 120g (4.2 oz) serving size, ripe jackfruit has a glycemic index (GI) of 63. This is higher than apples at 45, oranges at 52, and bananas at 43, as reported in the same test. This is why you will want to stick with small portions if you have type 1 or 2 diabetes. Better yet, the green jackfruit which is less ripe contains lower amounts of sugar. (12)

Where to buy

Whether you’re in Orange County, CA or Raleigh, NC, frozen ripe jackfruit is the closest form to fresh you are likely to find. Whole jackfruits are rarely sold at stores and when they are, it appears they carry them more as a novelty factor, rather than an item they stock on an on-going basis.

On Amazon you can buy canned organic jackfruit and the dried fruit in bags. Both are delicious on their own or in recipes.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.