Jackfruit is a tropical fruit that grows right next to the trunks of its trees and looks like a basketball-sized wart. But dont let this deter you. When its ripe, the inside yields sections that have a slightly sweet, juicy tropical flavor. Some call it a mix between pineapple, mango and banana. Others say its what the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum tried to mimic. It's perfect for eating just like any other fruit. The unripe kind, on the other hand, is perfect for using in meals.

How jackfruit grows.
How jackfruit grows.

Its often considered a meat substitute, because of the meaty texture it adds to a main course, not due to its flavor or nutritional content. Thats not to say its not nutritious; it has a lot of virtues. A cup of uncooked jackfruit contains 155 calories, 2.6 g fiber, as well as decent amounts of potassium (500 mg) and some magnesium (61 mg). Its protein2.4 gisnt what youd get from meat or beans, but that shouldnt hold you back.

Heres how to handle this mammoth fruit:

Where to Use Unripe Jackfruit

Jackfruit is more of a texture than a flavor, says Sidra Forman, Washington-based chef and co-author of The Pescetarian Plan .

Its very versatile in that it picks up seasoning very well, and can easily be replaced for ground meat, pulled meat, or shredded chicken in most recipes, she says. And it can be pan-roasted, baked, or grilled.

It goes well with curry, Asian aromatic spices, lime and chili, even simple olive oil, salt, and pepper, she explains. As a whole, plant-based food, jackfruit is unique. You might be able to get a similar result with seitan, tempeh, or a soy product, but none of those are single-ingredient whole foods, Forman says.

Since its not very high in protein, you might want to pair it with something that is. In a stir fry, you might add some crumbled tofu, or you can use jackfruit as a topping over a high-protein bean pasta.

Where to Get Jackfruit

The explosion in interest in this humble fruit means you can now find it in prepared meals The Jackfruit Company sells heat-and-eat meals with jackfruit in flavors like red kidney beans, jackfruit, tomato and rustic herbs. Trader Joes has a jackfruit curry meal .

But if you want plain, unripe jackfruit for your cooking project, youre most likely going to get it frozen or sometimes canned (just make sure youre getting the savory kind, not the sweet, ripened kind). In the US, if you see jackfruit in the produce aisle, its usually the ripe fruit that youd eat right out of the package or use in a dessert.

Ripe jackfruit, ready for eating.
Ripe jackfruit, ready for eating.

If you do encounter a whole unripe jackfruit, be aware that its kind of a project to hack up. Its not easy to slick into and has a resin that sticks to your knife and reportedly stains what it touches. Ripe jackfruit in produce sections is usually pre-cut and just the tender insides are packaged up for you, ready for snacking.