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For vegans, vegetarians and anyone just looking to cut down on animal products, there’s never been a better time to eat pretend meat. Grocery store aisles are filled with seitan jerky, veggie sausages and lab-grown “meat” crumbles. Even the Whopper has a plant-based alternative. There’s also one totally natural option: It’s been popular for centuries in its native Southeast Asia, and it’s the secret to the best vegan “pulled pork” on earth. Yep, the almighty jackfruit is finally getting the worldwide attention it deserves. Ready to find out more? Let’s do this.

What are jackfruits, exactly?

Jackfruits are a tropical fruit, most closely related to figs and breadfruit. They are generally oblong, with tough, spiky outer skin. And they’re massive: Jackfruits are the world’s biggest tree fruit, weighing up to (a frankly absurd) 100 pounds. Even a “small” fruit is generally around 15 pounds—enough to feed your whole family with tons of leftovers. Jackfruits have a slightly sweet but mostly neutral flavor, so they take on whatever seasoning or sauce you use (desserts and main courses are both totally fair game). But the reason they’ve become such a popular meat substitute is the texture—the consistency is stringy and tender, like shredded chicken or pork.

ARE JACKFRUITS GOOD FOR YOU?

Good news: Jackfruits are a damn nutritional powerhouse. They’re low in calories, with just 155 per one-cup serving. And unlike most animal meats, they have no saturated fat or cholesterol and only a small amount of sodium. Plus, jackfruits are packed with all kinds of good stuff. Each serving has three grams of fiber and 110 milligrams of heart-healthy potassium, as well as vitamins A and C, magnesium, calcium, iron and riboflavin.

Unlike most fruits, jackfruits do have a little bit of protein, though not nearly as much as actual meat. A one-cup serving of jackfruit has three grams of protein, compared to 43 grams in a cup of chicken breast. But if you need to up your protein, or want to feel a little more satiated, jackfruits do have another secret stash: the seeds. Roasted or boiled, the seeds have a sweet, nutty flavor, and each 100-gram serving adds about seven grams of protein to your meal.

How do you cook a jackfruit?

Step 1: Pick a jackfruit

Like any other fruit, jackfruits have a ripening process. Most jackfruits are sold when they’re young (aka unripe), which means they’ll be green and firm. If you want to use jackfruit in a recipe, particularly as a meat substitute, these are probably the ones you’re looking for. Once jackfruits ripen, they’ll start to feel softer and smell fruity, and yellow spots will appear on the outside. The texture of a super ripe fruit won’t work for most of the meaty recipes, but they’re still great for desserts—definite mango or papaya vibes are at work.

Step 2: Cut the jackfruit

As we mentioned, jackfruits are….sizable. The average one weighs more than most toddlers. So this is definitely a job for your biggest knife. Jackfruits can also be quite sticky, with a white viscous sap inside, so you’ll want to find a surface that’s easy to clean and lay down a sheet of plastic wrap before you get started. Coat your knife with some nonstick spray, or a thin layer of vegetable or coconut oil, to keep it from sticking to the sap. Then take your knife and bisect the fruit as if you’re cutting a watermelon.

Step 3: Remove the core and the seeds

Jackfruits have a hard white core at the center. That’s too tough to eat, so cut it out and discard. Then take out the seeds and set them aside to eat later—we like them roasted with a sprinkle of salt.

Step 4: Separate out the edible flesh

To a novice jackfruit eater, the whole fruit can be a bit confusing, but the parts you’re looking for are the bright yellow pods. Discard the white fibrous strands around them, set aside any lingering seeds and pull out each pod. Because of the sap, you might need to use a paring knife or put a little oil on your hands as you work. Note: If you’re not looking for a real adventure and want to save yourself the trouble of selecting and cutting into the fruit, jackfruit pods are also available canned or prepackaged at many markets and online.

Step 5: Cook and enjoy

Once you’ve extracted all the jackfruit pods, you’re ready to roll. Add them to chilis or stews; throw them into a slow cooker or Instant Pot with some barbecue sauce, or sauté them in a little oil on top of the stove and make vegan tacos or burritos. Or try your hand at some of our favorite recipes—we promise, this miracle fruit is full of surprises.

1. BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches with Avocado Slaw

Close your eyes and you’ll swear you’re eating a pulled pork sandwich. Plus, once the jackfruit is cut and shredded (which you can do ahead of time), the whole thing comes together in about 30 minutes.

Get the recipe

2. Jackfruit Tacos with Grilled Pineapple

The subtly tropical flavor of the jackfruit pairs perfectly with a grilled pineapple salsa. Pair with some chips and guac, and your totally meatless summer party is planned.

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3. Crispy Jackfruit Carnitas

These crispy, savory carnitas are perfect for meal prep. Make a big batch on Sunday and add them to tacos, burritos, enchiladas and scrambled eggs all week long.

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4. Korean BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches

We would eat just about anything slathered with this sauce. It’s a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy and totally delicious. The tahini slaw adds some much-needed freshness and crunch, as well as an unexpected nutty flavor.

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5. Jackfruit Chicken Salad Sandwich

This quick lunch has everything we love about chicken salad: crunchy celery, sweet grapes and plenty of walnuts. A dash of poultry seasoning makes the jackfruit taste just like the real thing, but it’s actually totally vegan.

Get the recipe

RELATED: 15 Dinner Ideas Even Carnivores Will Love

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