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The Meaty Life of a Jackfruit



As my lunch companion, FSN columnist Jonathan Locke, and I stare up at the menu at Revival Smoked Meats in the Keg & Case market, I tell him our graphic designer, Steve Hamburger, has told me to try the jackfruit sandwich because we won’t be able to tell it isn’t smoked meat. 

“Ah, yes,” Jonathan replies. “Jackfruit is having a moment.”

Jackfruit in its nature setting

A species of tree in the fig, mulberry, and breadfruit family, jackfruit has been having a moment since 2016. The reason it’s continuing to show up on barbecue and Mexican restaurant menus is that its unripe version is akin to another vegetarian mainstay, tofu, which has a bland flavor on its own, but soaks up the flavors of the sauces. But in the case of jackfruit, its texture is similar to shredded pork, so the mimicking is closer to meat. It also looks like pork—a little lighter in color and doesn’t quite shed the same — but close enough that when we placed it next to the pork sandwich, it took us a moment to determine which was which.

If you’re a vegetarian and you come to a barbecue place, jackfruit on the menu allows you to experience the restaurant in the same vein as your meat-eating friends, Jonathan explained. Which means that while its only a moment, it may last a lifetime.

A very convincing performance of jackfruit playing pork. 

Because I am a robust meat eater, I ordered the beef brisket sandwich and the pork shoulder sandwich (I was sharing), plus the red beans and rice with knackwurst, ham and bacon. So the jackfruit sandwich wasn’t lonely, I added another side, potato salad and, of course, corn bread. The Jackfruit sandwich, topped with a delicious red cabbage slaw and kaiware sprouts, was $12, the same price as the brisket, but $3 more than the pork shoulder sandwich (also with red cabbage slaw).

While jackfruit has been showing up on savory menus, it also has a sweet side. When the ripe fruit is eaten raw its taste is similar to bananas, mangos and pineapples. So if you have a fresh jackfruit and it ripens, there's always dessert. 

The trees are native to southwest India, and the fruit can grow to be quite large. Because of its size—some of the fruit can grow to weigh as much as 120 pounds — and nutritio, it's a crop that could be a solution to feeding the world's population. 

Because it's expensive and labor intensive to prepare, Mike "Pinto" Pantaleo says Reinhart Foodservice isn't see a big demand for the item.  A convenient solution to the fresh fruit is to source it in cans and vacuum-sealed bags, packed in brine. The key is to buy ‘young” or “green” jackfruit so it’s not sweet.  

A brief and informal search on the internet of barbecue menus around town unveiled just one other place with jackfruit on the menu. Bark and the Bite in NE Minneapolis has a menu item called the BBQ Mock Jackalope, which is “100% vegetarian and 100% delicious,” according to its website. 

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