Written by Kon-Tiki Taco
The huge, rough-skin fruit can grow as big as watermelons. In an un-ripened form the fruit itself has a meat-like texture that goes well in tacos.
One of the more interesting fruits to come out of the jungles of far off lands lately is the jackfruit. A dietary staple for centuries in southeast and south Asia, this ungainly, huge piece of produce is turning up in hip Western restaurants. Here in the U.S., jackfruit is a surprisingly good substitute for meat in vegan recipes – including in tacos.
That substitution is possible because the non-ripened form of the jackfruit resembles meat in texture (once it ripens it has a sugar content that puts it more in the category of mangoes and bananas). With proper seasoning, it can also have a convincingly meat-like taste. So particularly for vegetarians and vegans, the jackfruit is being tried in all kinds of recipes as a substitute for animal meats.
Specialty taco caterers are beginning to provide vegan taco catering upon request. And they aren’t alone: an Internet search for “jackfruit tacos” turns up all kinds of combinations: as a substitute for pulled pork, one taco recipe might include garlicky chipotle sauce, paprika, tamari, maple syrup, a squeeze of lime and chopped cilantro.
In fact, cooks who are experienced with jackfruit find the ingredient to be broadly versatile. This includes those who provide generalized mobile taco catering, not just vegetarian taco caterers.
What might disappoint anyone using jackfruit as a meat substitute is its low protein content. In a 100 gram (3.5 ounce) serving it will have about 1.72 grams of protein; a chicken taco will be closer to 13 grams. But it is high in dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. Before cooking, jackfruit also is constituted of 73.5% water, a fact welcomed by those who want to avoid calorie dense foods.
The low protein content can be compensated for with other ingredients. For example, taco catering firms can and also do supplement the protein content with beans, avocadoes and cheese. The tortilla shells have protein as well: 1 gram in corn, 3 grams in flour.
And for diners concerned about sustainability, all produce including the jackfruit will be naturally advantaged over animal protein sources. Beef, pork, goat and chicken require far more resource inputs such as water and feed (sourced from agriculture, which requires significant amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicide use), in addition to antibiotic use in most industrialized animal feedlots. Jackfruit trees grow naturally in the hot, humid climates of south India, and similar climates in Asia, Africa, Hawaii, Brazil and the East Indies. While requiring irrigation only in drought conditions, the biggest environmental impact is they need to be shipped to all other regions.
Taco purveyors are among the first to introduce jackfruit to American diners. Expect to see them more frequently in years to come as chefs experiment further with recipes.