Why Jackfruit Might Save the World

Jackfruit can be eaten raw, used as faux meat, or can be placed in salads, pies or other desserts. (Photo: Prachaya Roekdeethaweesab/Shutterstock)

Climate change makes the future of our food uncertain. Animals raised for meat contribute to climate change, so reducing the number of animals raised could slow climate change, but then there would be less meat to go around. What will people eat?

Some think jackfruit is the answer.

If you're unfamiliar with the fruit, you may not be for long. The enormous fruit, the largest known to come from a tree, is being lugged out of Whole Foods and other stores more often lately. I say lugged because the smallest weighs about 10 pounds, and they can grow to be more than 100 pounds, according to the Guardian, although the ones sold in grocery stores are most often 10-20 pounds.

It's not just jackfruit's huge size that makes it a candidate for filling the bellies of the world. The nutrients and calories in the fruit are significant, and the fruit could be described as climate change-resistant (but not climate change-proof).

Jackfruit and nutrition

Jackfruit is "high in protein, potassium and vitamin B. And, with about 95 calories in about a half a cup, they aren't quite as high-carb or caloric as staples like rice or corn," according to NPR. Just how high is high? A cup of the fruit has 2.8 grams of protein, 739 milligrams of potassium, and contains 25 percent of a day's worth of vitamin B. It also contains 37 percent of a day's worth of vitamin C, 1 gram of fat, and 38 grams of carbs.

The nutrients in jackfruit can help prevent cancer, strengthen the immune system, aid in digestion, lower cholesterol, strengthen bones and more, according to eHealthzine.

Getting this nutritional powerhouse into the mouths of more people will take some work, but it's very possible.

Jackfruit and growing conditions

Photo: Haripat Jantawalee/Shutterstock

Under the right conditions, jackfruit grows easily. Food Tank's Danielle Nierenberg told The Guardian that it "survives pests and diseases and high temperatures. It is drought-resistant." Once the tree is mature, it doesn't need much care.

Here in the U.S., jackfruit has been grown successfully in limited amounts in Florida for more than 100 years. Ramping up jackfruit orchards would take some time. It takes five to seven years for a tree to start producing fruit. When the trees become fully mature, they can produce 150-200 jackfruit a year.

Planting jackfruit orchards in regions where the trees thrive may go a long way in fighting food insecurity.

Jackfruit is ripe for saving the world, but is it something people want to eat?

Jackfruit's versatility

Depending on the seasonings used, jackfruit can be used all sorts of faux meat. A quick search on Pinterest will turn up recipes for pulled pork, buffalo chicken dip, reuben sandwiches, crab cakes, cheese steaks and more — all meatless. People are getting very creative with jackfruit.

It can be eaten raw, of course. When ripe, it's been described to taste like a cross between a pineapple and mango, with hints of banana, peach or pear. You can put jackfruit in salads, pies and other desserts.

The seeds from jackfruit are edible, too. They can even be roasted, dried and turned into flour.

What strikes me about all this good news about jackfruit is that it's not coming from someone screaming on a commercial about the latest superfood — the cure for all that ails you. No one (yet) is calling it the next acai berry or POM juice. The information about the fruit is coming from scientists and organizations like Food Tank. It seems like there really is something here — something promising. And if that faux-pulled pork sandwich tastes as good as it looks, that's even more promising.