Pulled pork is pretty damn close to a perfect food. Problem is, it's probably not the healthiest decision to eat loads of pig products every day. So when you hear about a healthy version of pulled pork, the ears perk up… but when you hear that it's something called jackfruit, and that jackfruit is a plant, the bullshit alarms start going off.
Still, people swear this stuff does an uncanny imitation of pulled pork, when prepared properly. It certainly looks the part; that photo above is a jackfruit sandwich, not pulled pork. Finding an adequate sub for this BBQ staple usually means more meat, but if jackfruit lives up to the hype, there's no good reason not to eat it by the pound.
WTF is a jackfruit?
Jackfruit is weird, for sure. It's thought to have originated in India and spread out a bit from there, and is often grown in Africa and Brazil, as well as the Philippines. It only likes to grow in humid, tropical climates, which is why you won't find jackfruit trees in New York or Idaho, and they don't even fare all that well in Southern Florida. It's massive, and the strange spikes honestly make the fruit look inedible. However, it's full of good-for-you stuff, like fiber, vitamin A, and several B vitamins, and for those who can get through to the delectable, edible insides, there's a definite payoff.
OK, jackfruit is good for you, but so is kale, and most people don't claim that a kale salad tastes as good as a burger fresh off the grill. Could jackfruit really work as a pulled pork alternative? Is that even possible? Turns out that a growing number of chefs -- and their customers -- think it is.
Chefs say it's the real deal
Chef Charlie Grippo, of Green Bar & Kitchen, recently developed a jackfruit "pulled pork" recipe and has watched it become a bestseller at the Green Bar Express location. But do the diners believe it's as good as pork? "Yes! Food is personal and private, so each person has their own preference to mouthfeel and what I like to call 'food memory.' Food memory is where your mind goes when you bite into a mouthful of food; it takes your mind on a journey at a subconscious level." He claims meat eaters basically can't tell the difference during taste-tests, which is a pretty hardcore endorsement -- after all, if your taste buds are accustomed to eating meat on the regular, and you believe that a fruit subbed in its place is the same thing, this should be national news.
Alexa M. Lemley, executive chef of Artisan Foodworks, has a similar tale to tell. "I discovered jackfruit as a savory component while doing some research for my vegan customers," she said. "Originally we started using it as taco filling, but with the amount of pulled pork we serve we knew that the vegans might feel left out, so the idea was born." She also says her customers rave about the concoction as well.
Ready to dive in?
If you're looking to try to whip up a batch on your own, Leslie Elia of Growing Vital Health, LLC has a bit of advice. "If you are using a young (not too ripe) jackfruit, that white pithy part will not have a lot of taste. Therefore, it will absorb the cumin, BBQ sauce, garlic, paprika, liquid smoke, chili, and other spices that you would make with your pork sauce." There's no shortage of recipes for pulled jackfruit, and you'll probably use a canned version of the fruit, unless you happen to have access to a Southeast Asian market.
If you're not up for tracking down and wrangling what looks like a 20lb sea urchin, there are a ton of restaurants getting in on the jackfruit "pulled pork" action, with tons more sure to pop up in the near future. A few recs I received were Tasty Harmony in Fort Collins, Colorado; Lulu's Local Eatery in St. Louis, Missouri; and Amazing Cafe in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Obviously I had to try this magical fruit
I decided I just had to get my hands on some. I'm a carnivore, and really, the idea that a bizarre tropical fruit can be subbed for BBQ pork sounded too good to be true. Right? It has to be too good to be true. Fortunately, I live pretty close to a vegetarian restaurant in Downtown Kansas City, called FüD, so I hopped in to grab its jack BBQ sandwich.
I was apprehensive. I've always been a picky eater, and while my diet includes a greater variety of foods than it did when I was a kid, I still stick pretty close to my "regulars." When I brought the box from FüD to the table, I was expecting something off-putting, a chunky fruit covered in too-sweet barbecue sauce and liquid smoke.
But when I opened it, it looked... like a pulled pork sandwich. It smelled... like a pulled pork sandwich. And it blew me away. The consistency is quite meat-like, and while it's a little bit softer than actual chunks of pork, it seriously made no difference. Rather than having notes of sweetness, which you might expect from a fruit, it was savory and took on a classic Kansas City barbecue flavor; 10/10, I'd eat it again.
So, bottom line. Apparently a gigantic tropical fruit makes a badass pulled pork alternative. Crazier things have happened, but probably not too many.
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