Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Jackfruit Recipes & How to Eat Jackfruit

This jackfruit, about the size of a watermelon, was the smallest one at the store.

I have a lot to say about jackfruit in this post! So please jump to any of the following sections below:
  • A story about my acquisition of the jackfruit above (jump there!)
  • Information about jackfruit nutrition, flavor, and appearance (jump there!)
  • A step-by-step explanation of how to cut open and how to eat jackfruit raw (jump there!)
  • How to cook jackfruit seeds (jump there!)
  • A list of links to jackfruit recipes and my thoughts on the ones I made (jump there!)

Procuring my Jackfruit

Okay, time to get honest, folks. I didn't know jack about jackfruit until I bought one this summer from my favorite San Francisco Chinatown fresh market. I wasn't even there to get a jackfruit! I was hunting down a breadfruit!

Yes, I am a spelunker of foreign fresh markets and mysterious tropical fruits are the cave bats of my dreams. So to say.

It was mid-summer and I had spent a pleasant morning in San Francisco's Japantown catching up with a friend over tea. The teahouse was delightfully girlish, like playing at teatime inside a dollhouse.

After tea, I scooted on down to Chinatown for my much-anticipated breadfruit purchase. I'd lined up a stack of breadfruit recipes that I was looking forward to. Breadfruit, not jackfruit.

This extensive list of recipes would have required something like 53 pounds of breadfruit and conceivably the remaining 176 days of the year to consume. I'd brought my trusty Patagonia backpack and was prepared to load it up to the max.

But once I was at the market, no breadfruit were sight. I felt deflated and suddenly aimless.

As happens when tragedies hit, a succession of emotions hit me: Shock and disbelief (Impossible! I'm going to check that crate again...again), confusion (Aren't breadfruit supposed to be in season soon?), misplaced anger (Well, what's the point of globalization and genetic engineering, then?). And, finally, despair (What will I eat for the next 176 days of the year?).

I finally accepted that no breadfruit were going to materialize, so I threw caution to the wind and chose the next weirdest fresh whatnot I could find: a gigantic, green, spiky orb that I could barely lift (despite choosing the smallest one in the crate). Indeed, I did not even know whether it was a fruit or vegetable, let alone that is was a jackfruit.

Cradling my mystery fruit with all the muscles I could muster, I scuttled with joy from the open air stacks of fresh items to the store's crowded indoors.

An older gentleman in line next to me: "Are those any good?"

"Oh, yeah, they're really good!" I didn't know! I didn't even know what I was holding. Why did I say that?

Him: "I don't know how to prepare one. I guess you have to know how to cook it!"

"Yep, just like anything I guess..." Well, at least that was true.

Luckily, he didn't ask me for my secret recipe or anything. I barely fit the fruit into my backpack, and headed home.

I did have a hunch that it was a jackfruit, but I was worried because it looked (and kind of smelled) like a gigantic durian. Once I arrived at home, the internet assured me that I had a jackfruit, and I then learned all about them.
plate of fresh ripe jackfruit

Jackfruit, Wonder Food of the Gods

If durian can be considered the "King of Fruits," then maybe jackfruit could take the humble title of "food of the gods." A much less regal title, since instead of wielding power, it's being preferentially eaten by the powerful. But still a nice title and an appropriate homage to its deliciousness and its ability to be eaten ripe or unripe, cooked or raw, as dessert, snack, side dish or even as a meat substitute.

The large, green, spiky fruits grow on trees and can weigh over 60 pounds each. When ripe, the green fruit emits a faint but somewhat unappetizing odor akin to durian (but not as strong or as noxious). The scent, in my opinion, is like sweet almond paste, overripe fruit, and rotting onions.

The ripe fruit's outer green spikes protect a thick, white, spongey layer that cushions the edible interior. The edible portion is comprised of fleshy orange fruit pods that are held in place by white filaments. The flesh of the little orange fruits is sweet, and tastes something like banana, pineapple, and mango.

Jackfruit can also be eaten (in cooked dishes) when unripe. The flavor and texture of unripe jackfruit is said to be similar to chicken, and is often used as a meat substitute.

(Trivia Moment: The flavor for Juicy Fruit gum is rumored to be modeled after the flavor of jackfruit. After learning this, I couldn't stop thinking about how much the jackfruit really did taste like Juicy Fruit. I started to feel like I was eating gum and it kind of grossed me out.)

Each orange fruit encases a large brown seed. The seeds are edible when cooked. The taste is like a cross between a potato and a roasted chestnut. They are dense and rich in starch and protein, but have a hard outer shell you need to remove before chowing down.

The plant and fruit ooze a sticky white latex when cut. The sap is incredibly adhesive and cannot be removed with soap and water --- only oil works. So before you cut into a jackfruit, lay down a few layers of newspaper and put oil on your hands, knife, and kitchen sink knobs to help prevent it from sticking. Then follow up with more oil to remove the sap when you're done.

Jackfruit Nutrition

Like most fruits, jackfruit is packed with delicious sugar. Any standout nutritional features? It's a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. And like many seeds, jackfruit seeds are a good source of protein.

As for specific details, why recreate what's perfect already? The chart on the right hand side of this wikipedia page does a very good job of summing up the major jackfruit nutrition facts:

How To Eat Jackfruit, Step-by-Step

1) Jackfruit oozes a very sticky white latex sap. In texture and adhesiveness, it's akin to rubber cement. Oil is the best way to keep it from sticking to things; it's also the only way to remove it. So, before you start, use a surface that is well-oiled (like an oiled wooden cutting board) or lay down lots of newspaper. Then oil a large chef's knife and a smaller paring knife and your hands and arms. Also oil the knobs of your kitchen sink. Put your hair back if you have long hair.
The fruit husk and core ooze latex, so use an oiled wooden cutting board or lay down lots of newspaper.

2) Carefully use the chef's knife to cut the jackfruit in half.
Cut the jackfruit in half.

3) If you have a ripe jackfruit (interior is orange) use the paring knife to cut out the stem. Then cut around the outside of the inner central white extension of the stem, and then cut it into crosswise sections as pictured below. Finally, cut just under the white central area to free each segment one by one.

Cutting an unripe jackfruit: If you have an unripe jackfruit (flesh is very pale or white), cut the fruit halves into potato-sized chunks. You want something you can handle easily, basically to facilitate the removal of the outer skin. Once you've cut it into chunks, then cut away the green outer husk and remove the inner white pith. If your fruit is very young, there won't be seeds to worry about. Chop up the good stuff that remains, and you're done! If it's a little older, though, read on to learn how to remove the seeds.
Use a paring knife to partition the inner white core to make it easier to remove.

4) Once the inner white section is cut away, the jackfruit should look something like the photo below. If any of the inner white core area is still attached to the orange fruit, carve it away before proceeding. It's very tough and will be hard to work around when you try to turn the fruit inside out in the next step.
Makes sure the inner white core is completely removed.

5) Turn the fruit inside-out.

6) Grab a plate and a bowl for separating out the fruit and the seeds.

7) Separate out the fruit. Grab a segment and pull. It should pop out.

8) Remove inedible parts from the fruit. Start by pulling away the white sheath that covers the orange fruit.
Remove the white sheath that covers the orange fruit.

9) Cut or tear the fruit open to get to the seed.

10) Remove the seed from the fruit.

11) Remove the slimy membrane from the seed.

12) Repeat for all of the fruits!

13) If you want to eat the seeds, there's still more work to do. Each seed is encased by a thin, hard shell. You can bake the seeds with the shell on (recipe below), and it will crack open. Then peel the baked seeds before eating them. If you are making a curry or stir fry with the seeds, you can crack the casing with a knife and then peel it off.
The white seed case is visible here after being removed from a seed I cut in half.

How to Cook Jackfruit Seeds

Here are a few jackfruit seed recipes that I'd recommend. I tried the salted, oven roasted seeds and I made the jackfruit seed curry. The curry requires a lot of work: remove the hard outer seed casings, then cut the dense seeds into little slivers.

Recipe for Roasted or Boiled Jackfruit Seeds: (I roasted some in the oven as described via the link, and thought they were an okay snack. The ones that cooked longer had a dry, potato-like texture and tasted something like chestnuts, and the ones that cooked less were more creamy and moist.)

Recipe for Roasted Jackfruit Seeds using a Cast Iron Pan: (This link is interesting because it also describes how jackfruit seeds are traditionally roasted in a charcoal grill called a kumutti. I've read they are also often roasted right among the coals of a grill or fire.)

Jackfruit Seed Curry Recipe (Chakkakkuru Olathu): (I made this and it was very tasty, but a lot of work to prepare the seeds. You can see some of the process pictured below, though I didn't get photo of the final dish.)

Collection of Jackfruit Recipes

Now that you've freed your jackfruit from its gnarly husk, prepare to make some jackfruit recipes!

Ripe Jackfruit Recipes (sweet, light orange flesh):

Most recipes for ripe jackfruit are desserts, but I found at least one savory dish:

Northern Thai Sweet Jackfruit Curry (Gaeng Kanun):

Jackfruit Dessert Recipes:

Jackfruit Sticky Rice:

Jackfruit Juice Recipe:

Jackfruit Smoothie Recipes:

Jackfruit Custard Recipes:

Jackfruit Cake Recipes:

Unripe Jackfruit Recipes (white or pale green jackfruit flesh):

Unripe Jackfruit Curry: (the recipe calls it raw, but they mean "unripe"... it is cooked)

Unripe Jackfruit with coconut and spices (Chakka Puzhukku):

Indonesian Jackfruit with Coconut Milk Recipe (Gudeg):

Filipino Jackfruit with Coconut Milk Recipe (Ginataan Langka):

Thai Jackfruit Salad Recipes (Tam Kanun / Tham Kanoon / Tom Khanun):
(It's called a "soup" but only because liquid is used to make it. It is solid like a salad.)

Vietnamese Jackfruit Salad Recipes:

Unripe Jackfruit Chips:

Finally, one more collection of jackfruit recipes worth browsing:

I hope this post provides some interesting info for those of you who haven't yet encountered jackfruit in your local market. And if you can get your hands on one, I hope some of you feel inspired and informed enough to try a jackfruit recipe yourselves!