It’s one of those things you hear about in vegan circles, sometimes called the “pulled pork” of the vegan world. (What’s the huge deal with pulled pork, anyway?) Google “vegan jackfruit” and you’re rewarded with enough recipes to make you want to run out and buy as many of these enormous, odd-looking fruits as you can.
Thanks to Upton’s Naturals, it’s my turn to add to the crazy collection of vegan jackfruit creations. Say hello to their brand-new product:
In fact, this is just one of two jackfruit products that Upton’s is offering–the other being Chili Lime Carnitas. Each 300-gram package contains shredded jackfruit and a seasoned sauce packed inside a plastic pouch and ready for use in recipes. Upton’s has had my undying adoration since I discovered that they make seitan without oil, so I was more than a little excited when given the opportunity to review both jackfruit flavors.
Now, you might be wondering, with all the other vegan meat replacements and substitutes out there, why would one choose jackfruit in particular? First off, you can get a whole lot of food from one jackfruit. According to Wikipedia, it’s the largest fruit that grows on a tree. Some grow as big as 35 inches long and can weigh up to 80 pounds! They’re so big that Googling “jackfruit” pops up articles that dub it a “miracle food” or a food “to feed the world.” It grows mainly in South and Southeast Asia on a tree that’s in the same family as mulberry and fig, though it may have originated in India.
People around the world were getting creative with jackfruit long before vegans were making pulled jackfruit sandwiches. In many different cultures, jackfruit is eaten fresh or dried, fried into chips, as an addition to desserts, cooked in curries and, of course, as a meat substitute.
Eating 100 grams of jackfruit provides:
- About 95 calories
- No fat and almost no sodium
- 2 grams of fiber
- A decent amount of vitamin C
- A range of B vitamins
- A good dose of potassium
Logically, it follows that the Jackfruit creations from Upton’s Naturals are similarly low in calories–45 for a serving of the BBQ and 35 for the chili lime–but the sauce changes the salt and sugar content quite a bit. In fact, that’s the only thing I didn’t like about the product: the sauce in both varieties is too high in sodium for my tastes and contains evaporated cane juice. For me, that means this particular jackfruit is a treat, not a staple.
But what a treat it is!
As you can see, it looks distressingly like meat inside the package. The cooking instructions suggest mixing up the jackfruit and the sauce prior to using it, but I was feeling a bit lazy so I just smushed everything around inside the package before taking out a serving for my meal. There are two ways to cook Upton’s jackfruit: pan “frying” and boiling. I didn’t try the second option since it involves cooking the jackfruit inside the package, and I can’t comfortably recommend heating anything up while it’s wrapped in plastic.
I cooked the BBQ variety up with some onions, mushrooms, kale and chickpeas, which turned into the recipe for BBQ Jackfruit Kale Saute that I’ve posted here. I also tried it with lentils and kale. Both combinations were extremely good. The sauce has an authentic “BBQ” smell and taste, and even though the servings work out to a scant half cup, there’s enough of it to flavor an entire dish.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I liked the jackfruit at first. There were more chunks in the package than shreds, and something about the taste seemed a bit “off.” However, after using it in a few more dishes, both the flavor and the texture grew on me and I decided that it was a winner!
Jackfruit doesn’t really taste meaty, though, which is fine since things that are too close to actual meat in texture gross me out. Instead, the texture is more soft and chewy, and the jackfruit itself has a very light taste that allows the spiciness of the sauce to take center stage.
The chili lime variety is also quite spicy and smells predominantly of lime when you open the package. To try that out, I started with a similar saute with pinto beans instead of chickpeas. My favorite, though, was a conglomeration of black beans, kale and sweet potatoes that convinced me you could use the jackfruit in a black bean burger or a burrito with amazing results.
Of course, I ate it all, so I’ll have to pick up more if I want to try that. I haven’t found it in my area yet, but the local co-op already carries Upton’s seitan and is pretty open to requests. I know what I’m going to tack up on the suggestion board when I’m there this week! Needless to say, I understand the obsession with jackfruit now and will be trying one of those famed vegan “pulled pork” sandwiches in the near future.
Just a quick note on the recipe: Unlike other vegan meat alternatives, jackfruit is fairly low in protein. Protein myths aside, I do like to have something a bit heartier with my meals, which is why I routinely added beans to the various dishes I made. For the BBQ Jackfruit Kale Saute, you can use chickpeas like I did, or cook up some lentils. Or just leave the beans out and enjoy the jackfruit straight up! It’s tasty served over roasted potatoes or your favorite cooked grain.
- 1 cup lentils, rinsed
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 1 cup red pepper, chopped
- 1½ cups mushrooms, sliced
- 1 large bunch kale, including stems, chopped
- 1 package Upton's Naturals BBQ Jackfruit
- roasted potatoes or rice, for serving
- Place the lentils and water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Check them periodically, adding more water if necessary. When they're done, drain them and set them aside.
- Place the onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Cover and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add small splashes of water to the pan if the onions start to stick. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
- Add the peppers and mushrooms, cover and cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft and the mushrooms start to release their juices. Toss in the kale and cook until it starts to wilt, 3-5 minutes more.
- Add the lentils and jackfruit to the pan, being sure to get all of the sauce out of the package. (This is important--the sauce is the main flavoring for the dish!) Cook until heated through, about 2 more minutes. Serve hot over cooked rice or roasted potatoes.