Thrissur (India) (AFP) – Green, spiky and with a strong, sweet smell, the bulky jackfruit has morphed from a backyard nuisance in India’s south coast into the meat-substitute darling of vegans and vegetarians in the West.
Part of South Asia’s diet for centuries, jackfruit was so abundant that tonnes of it went to waste every year.
But now India, the world’s biggest producer of jackfruit, is capitalising on its growing popularity as a “superfood” meat alternative — touted by chefs from San Francisco to London and Delhi for its pork-like texture when unripe.
“There are a lot of enquiries from abroad… At the international level, the interest in jackfruit has grown manifold,” Varghese Tharakkan tells AFP from his orchard in Kerala’s Thrissur district.
The fruit, which weighs five kilogrammes (11 pounds) on average, has a waxy yellow flesh when ripe and is eaten fresh, or used to make cakes, juices, ice creams and crisps.
When unripe, it is added to curries or fried, minced and sauted. In the West, shredded jackfruit has become a popular alternative to pulled pork and is even used as a pizza topping.
“People love it,” Anu Bhambri, who owns a chain of restaurants in the US and India, explains.
“The jackfruit tacos have been a hit at each and every location. The jackfruit cutlet — every table orders it, it’s one of my favourites!”
James Joseph quit his job as a director at Microsoft after spotting Western interest in jackfruit “gaining momentum as a vegan alternative to meat”.
– Jack of all fruits –
The COVID-19 crisis, Joseph says, has created two spikes in consumer interest.
“Coronavirus caused a fear for chicken and people switched to tender jackfruit. In Kerala, lockdown caused a surge in demand for mature green jackfruit and seeds due to shortage of vegetables due to border restrictions,” he explains.
Global interest in veganism was already soaring pre-pandemic, buoyed by movements such as Meat Free Mondays and Veganuary, and with it the business of “alternative meats”.