Meat substitute, green jackfruit can replace shredded pork, but how does it taste?

I’ve enjoyed the intensely sweet, slightly stinky taste of ripened jackfruit for decades, as it’s a popular fruit (which sort of looks like a rough, armored watermelon with spikes) in Asian cuisine. If you’ve never had the sweet version of the fruit before, it tastes like a cross between a very ripe mango and a pineapple, but slightly stinkier. Some people compare its flavor to Juicy Fruit gum. And if you are familiar with durian, it’s like a much less pungent version of that fragrant fruit.

But recently, the unripened version of the fruit, green jackfruit (sometimes called young jackfruit), has been touted as a miracle food that might replace meat in some instances. Intrigued, I had to give it a try. So I popped into Trader Joes (one of my regular grocery stops) to buy a 20-ounce can of “green jackfruit in brine” for $2. When I opened the can, I was greeted by triangular pieces of fleshy fruit fiber that looked a bit like pineapple wedges.

When eaten as is, green jackfruit, which hasn’t had a chance to ripen at all, is pretty bland, has a pleasant texture, is somewhat fibrous, and a bit salty. If you’ve had bamboo shoots before, it’s a bit like that, but slightly more tough and without the signature bamboo flavor.

If that doesn’t sound too appealing, don’t worry. Most people don’t eat young jackfruit straight out of the can. The most popular preparation the food item is as a meat substitute used in place of shredded pork, for example in BBQ sandwiches. The particular recipe I tried called for seasoning the fruit with a teriyaki sauce, and some ginger and garlic.

How does green jackfruit taste (shredded)?
Because the green jackfruit doesn’t really have much of a taste, it serves mostly as a sponge for the flavors you add too it. After a few minutes in the pressure cooker, I was able to shred the cooked and seasoned jackfruit easily with a large spoon. I can say that the teriyaki preparation of green jackfruit I made tastes a lot like a meaty version of hearts of palm. Unlike shredded pork, it lacks the decadent fatty flavor of pork, but otherwise it’s reasonably close, and I wouldn’t be mad if someone served me this at a picnic. I was actually surprised at how decent it tasted. If you were to mix the flavored jackfruit with other vegetables as part of a dish, I think it would blend in quite nicely.

What’s the texture of green jackfruit?
The texture of green jackfruit is pleasant enough — it has a good chew to it. At times the fibrous parts of the jackfruit really did feel similar to tender BBQ pork in my mouth. Cooked green jackfruit is not quite as dense as shredded pork, but it’s still a decent approximation.

Final verdict on green jackfruit
While I’m not going to add jackfruit in brine to my regular meal rotation, it’s an entertaining curiosity that adventurous meat eaters should give a try. If I were a strict vegetarian or vegan, I would probably consider eating this regularly, as it’s a relatively natural meat replacement that’s tasty, inexpensive, minimally processed, nutritious, and easy to prepare.

Who knows if jackfruit will catch on as a long-lasting trend or slowly die out. But one thing is for sure in my mind. If you’re a foodie and have never tried green jackfruit, you should. If for no other reason, to learn more about food, and to see how surprisingly decent a meat alternative can taste. And the product is easily accessible if you live in a city with a Trader Joes, and it will only set you back a couple of bucks.

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