Snapshots from Asia: Tropical Fruit Feast, the Jackfruit
My great grandmother (who was illiterate and never attended a day of school) had an interesting yardstick for the heft of large objects. Things were classed as: If I throw it at a man, he’ll die; If I throw it at a man, he’ll be out cold; or simply, “mosquito fart.” I did not get to spend much time with this feisty old lady but the survival-esque nature of her wisdom constantly pops up in my head—particularly when I’m faced with ginormous things.
The jackfruit, the largest treeborne fruit known to man, would most certainly fall in the man-killing category. Averaging the size of a grown man’s trunk, they can weigh up to 110 pounds and remind me of obese, green pangolins—only with nubs instead of scales.
The Smell Issue
These green giants have what’s been called a “rotting onion” pong when ripe, but if you're a durian lover, you’ll agree that the scent of ripe jackfruit is a sweetly glorious, almost overwhelmingly ambrosial delight. For those who believe the durian is just too much, the jackfruit is easier on the nose.
Why does jackfruit smell better than durian? Probably because once the bulbs of the sunny yellow flesh (the stuff you actually eat) have been extracted from the shell, the jackfruit drops several notches on the odor scale. The good news is that jackfruit is seldom sold whole. I’ve always bought them shelled and neatly shrink-wrapped on Styrofoam trays, which conveniently masks the pong.
Beware the Whole Jackfruit
If you do happen to encounter a whole jackfruit, protect your beloved kitchen implements. The jackfruit exudes a white, sticky latex when cut so keep everything it touches well-oiled. That includes: your hands, knife, and chopping block.
This video from fellow Serious Eaters White on Rice Couple demonstrates how to do it right. They include a great tip on using rubber gloves so the oiled knife doesn’t slip from your oiled hands. They'll even show you how to balance a jackfruit on a scooter.
Uses of the Jackfruit
The awesome thing about jackfruit is that even if you’re already scared by its durian-type scent, you’ve probably already had it—and enjoyed it. Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum is said to taste just like the ripe jackfruit. Personally, I think the gum tastes more like bananas. But then again, the jackfruit might approximate a mango-banana love child.
On top of that, if you’re a fan of Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Cambodian, or Vietnamese food, these cuisines are big on using the jackfruit when it’s still unripe and pong-free. At this stage, jackfruit has no discernible taste of its own and tends to take the flavor of whatever it's cooked with.
In Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, it's known as having a “meaty” texture. Not sure if I agree, but it would be hard to tell it apart from artichoke hearts in a blind taste test.
Where to Find Jackfruit
Jackfruit grows in Asia-Pacific, Hawaii, and the West Indies. But it’s also commonly available in groceries canned in brine (unripe version used in curries, soups, and salads) or in syrup (ripe version commonly used in Thai coconut desserts). I’ve also netted absolutely delicious, freeze-dried jackfruit at Trader Joe’s (crispy chips that are incredibly addictive and excellent for those wary of the durian-type pong).
Of course, the fresh (sweet) version is divine out-of-hand. Pinch your nose while you chewing—trust me, it's worth it.
About the author: Wan Yan Ling can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.