If you’re like most people, you don’t know jack about jackfruit.
That’s probably because the world’s largest tree fruit is not grown commercially in the U.S. and, for the most part, you’ll only find it in high-end, specialty or ethnic stores.
Jackfruit is believed to be native to India, but it’s grown throughout Asia. Most of the fresh product sold in the U.S. comes from Mexico, says Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets Melissa’s brand specialty produce. Although the fruit is considered a sweet delicacy when it’s ripened and can be a nutritious meat substitute in its pre-ripe stage, it comes with a few drawbacks – like size, cost and the fact that it can be a pain to prepare.
A jackfruit is not something you slip into a lunchbox. It weighs in at 10 to 100 pounds. “It looks like a big beehive,” Schueller says.
Most of the fresh jackfruit sold in U.S. supermarkets is in the 12- to 20-pound range, he says, which isn’t practical for one- or two-person households.
And at a typical retail price of $2 to $3 per pound, a whole jackfruit isn’t cheap.Then there’s the preparation – a rather complex process that consumers may be reluctant to tackle. “It’s a difficult fruit to cut,” Schueller says.
Melissas.com advises anyone cutting up a jackfruit to “wear old clothes, latex gloves and cover (the) cutting board with plastic wrap,” since the fruit contains a sticky sap.
One must know which parts are edible (the inner flesh), and which are not (the center core), Schueller says. And there’s a special technique to removing the seeds, which can be consumed like potatoes.
Despite its idiosyncrasies, jackfruit sales are on the rise.
Schueller says he’s seen a 50% to 75% uptick in movement over the past three to four years.
Vegans love it
“Jackfruit has become a favorite among vegans and vegetarians as a meat substitute because of its texture,” says Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif. “But curious shoppers also contribute to the sales.”
Multiple media mentions over the past few years have piqued peoples’ interest, she says.
Since jackfruit is grown all over Asia, it’s a natural for Asian shoppers.
Asian supermarkets often sell jackfruit already processed with the edible pods packaged in overwrapped trays, she says.
“We find a lot of regular retailers like to stock fresh, whole jackfruit for new store openings because they draw a crowd,” Caplan adds.
If they sell well, or if retailers get requests for them, they’ll add them to their store’s product line.
Frieda’s and Melissa’s both offer tips on preparing fresh jackfruit.
“We created an ElastiTag label which showcases the jackfruit’s unique interior flesh while also explaining step-by-step how to eat the giant fruit,” Caplan says. The company also created a quick how-to video on its social media showing how to select and cut fruit.
Hard to find
The Big Y store in Worcester, Mass., is one of only two locations in the Springfield, Mass.-based chain of 80 stores that carry jackfruit, says Harry Burgess, assistant produce manager.
The other is a smaller store that focuses on specialty items.
The produce staff learned about jackfruit from Vietnamese customers who had been purchasing jackfruit at a small ethnic store nearby for $3.99 per pound.
“We called Melissa’s, they had it, so we brought it in at our price point — $1.99 per pound — and it’s flying off the shelf,” Burgess says.
As of mid-May, no one had bought a whole jackfruit at Big Y.
The store got special permission from its corporate office to cut the huge fruit into slices and quarters – like watermelons.
“The customers have educated us about it,” Burgess says. “They love it, so we keep bringing it in.”
The store, which added the product to its specialty lineup this spring, first ordered one case of two 15- to 18-pound jackfruit. Then Burgess ordered two cases.
“Next week, I’m going to order three cases, because it sells out in three days,” he said in mid-May.
Burgess thinks the chain eventually may add jackfruit to its product line for other locations.
The store displays jackfruit on an end cap with other specialty items, like dragon fruit, passion fruit, pepino melon and Buddha’s hand citron.
Burgess sampled the product, and it’s become popular among a number of non-Asian shoppers, as well.
As word spreads that Big Y now carries jackfruit, more Asian shoppers are coming in to buy the fruit along with other ethnic items, he says.
The store experienced a 200% to 300% increase in specialty business over the past couple of months compared to a year ago, he says.
Jackfruit serves dual purposes.
If eaten when the outer skin is green, the flesh has the consistency of pulled pork and can be used as a meat substitute, Schueller says. A couple of days later, after it turns yellow, it can be eaten as a sweet dessert.
Melissa’s offers the fruit year-round and is experiencing increased demand as Asian consumers, vegans and vegetarians increase their consumption, he says.
Jackfruit should be stored at 45 to 55 degrees, then allowed to ripen at room temperature and displayed with other tropical fruits, Caplan says. Ripe fruit will be fragrant and yield slightly to pressure.
Burgess says he expects jackfruit sales at Big Y to continue their upward trend. “It’s an item we’re going to carry as long as Melissa’s can supply us,” he says.