How do you prepare it?
Most people buy jackfruit that has already been prepared and packaged. It's sold in packages in the refrigerator section, or in cans in brine, water, or syrup.
The prepared stuff usually includes added flavourings and spices, says Jones — think chilli lime or Thai-inspired curries. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad for you, but Jones recommends checking the label to see how much added sugar is in each serving. (And with the canned stuff, avoid ones with syrup if you're watching your sugar!)
Jackfruit is also sold whole in specialty stores. However, the jackfruit that's used for substitute meat is called "young green jackfruit,"—a.k.a. it's not ripe yet. Ripe jackfruit that you'd buy whole is very sweet...and watermelon-sized, reports the Washington Post. You can prepare it yourself at home, but don't expect it to work well taste-wise as a meat substitute.
What can you eat with it?
Jackfruit (the young green kind) has very little flavour, which makes it a great vehicle for sauces and marinades (from buffalo to barbecue to curry), says Jones. You can barbecue it or smoke it, or even put it on a pizza, she says. She recommends heating it separately in a skillet (with added spices or sauces, if desired) before incorporating it into the other ingredients for your meal.
What’s the nutrition like?
The major catch: its nutritional content. "I would not recommend it be used as a regular meat replacement due to its very low protein content,” Jones says. “One half-cup serving provides under three grams of protein." Compared to other popular meat substitutes, that's not great: a half-cup of firm tofu has 21 grams of protein, and a half-cup of tempeh contains about 15 grams of protein.
“Jackfruit does, however, provide a few grams of fibre, as well as B vitamins,” which will keep you fuller longer and support metabolism, blood health, and heart health, she says.
Jones recommends eating your jackfruit with a side of beans to pump up the protein, or serving it on a high-protein whole-grain slice of bread. But nutrition-wise, it doesn't quite match up as a straight meat substitute.
Is it better for you than other meat substitutes?
Not necessarily, says Jones. While it may go through less "processing" than tofu, tempeh, or seitan, that does not make it nutritionally superior. And, there are other non-processed meat alternatives out there that are higher in protein.
“Edamame, or soybeans, provide plenty of protein, fibre, and nutrients right out of the pod, versus the added ingredients that may go into jackfruit you purchase in the refrigerator section of your grocery store,” she says.
However, if you're a vegan or vegetarian looking for something new to add to your routine, there's no reason not to try it—especially if a soy or gluten allergy has prevented you from enjoying tofu, tempeh, or seitan. Just be mindful that you'll want to get your protein in other ways when you include jackfruit in your main dish.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US