In my never-ending search for the perfect meat substitute, I stumbled upon jackfruit after my dad sent me an obscure text saying "This looks good, go try it," followed by a link. That same day, I ventured into Lulu's Local Eatery in St. Louis for my first jackfruit experience. It's safe to say I was not disappointed. I was inspired to do more research into how the jackfruit made its way to this St. Louis restaurant's menu.

The mango-peach flavor of the ripened fruit is what has historically made jackfruit an essential part of many Asian cultures' diets, and yet the total flexibility of the unripe meat (which lacks any strong flavor) is what has recently transformed jackfruit into the chic-est of the currently trending foods. 

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Although jackfruit is rare to find naturally in the United States, it is a staple in South and Southeast Asia. Jackfruit trees sprout around 150 individual fruits a year, and these are no apples: a single jackfruit can weigh up to 80 pounds.

Environmental Perks

The coolest thing about jackfruit isn’t its ability to pop up in vegan restaurants all over the country, but instead its unique potential to help solve hunger. As climate change threatens many large crops like wheat and corn, scientists have turned to jackfruit. Jackfruit is a climate-tough plant, meaning that it is both pest- and weather-resistant.

The only current issue with jackfruit is its underutilization—its full potential has not been exercised. There are currently only two commercial jackfruit farms in existence, even though the tree itself requires little to no maintenance. 

Health Benefits 

The sweet-tasting fruit of the jackfruit boasts an impressive list of nutritional benefits. Each fruit contains hundreds of individual seeds, and these seeds are packed with vitamin C, protein and iron, just to name a few of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants this fruit is home to. 

10 to 12 bulbs contain enough nutrients for half a day's worth of food. With only 95 calories in half a cup, jackfruit can serve as the perfect low-calorie yet nutrient-dense replacement for high-carb side dishes like rice or potatoes.

Why It's A Meat Substitute  

The most integral part of the fruit is the "meat" itself. When the fruit is unripe, it's dense and lacks its sweet flavor. Sounds boring, right? Wrong. Jackfruit is praised for its ability to soak up the flavor of whatever it's seasoned with. This allows it to be used as a meat substitute, which has become widely popular among vegetarians and vegans in the United States. It is often compared to the consistency of pulled pork.

How to Eat It 

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Popular western preparations include Banh Mi and mixtures with barbecue sauces. Jackfruit has also been used to make tacos, sloppy joes and even sushi.

When a jackfruit is ripe, the sugars give it a sweet, fruity flavor—it's often compared to a mango, a peach or some combination of the two. Add it to a salad or sandwich to spice up your usual routine with a refreshingly sweet bite.

Other Uses for Jackfruit

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While the meat of the jackfruit can be dried and ground into jackfruit powder to be used in dishes like hummus, the jackfruit tree itself has its own variety of uses. The leaves serve as a source of food for farm animals, the bark can be used as dye, and the trees produce a substance that can be used as a glue replacement.

Jackfruit may be one of the most multifaceted foods around these days, and it's definitely worth a try. You might be surprised to find how common this Asian mainstay is becoming across the U.S, in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and St. Louis