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A jackfruit can weigh a hundred pounds; the whole one seen here weighs about 20 pounds.

It’s Gigantic, Fibrous, Spiky—and a Substitute for Meat?

Meet the jackfruit, the South Asian staple that chefs and food companies are embracing as a sustainable stand-in for meat.

This story appears in the December 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Spiky, gigantic, and fibrous, jackfruit may not seem particularly inviting. But the tropical fruit in its unripened state is gaining popularity in the United States as a sustainable substitute for meat.

Twenty-five percent of U.S. consumers decreased their meat intake from 2014 to 2015, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. And sales of meat alternatives have nearly doubled—from $69 million in 2011 to $109 million in 2015.

That may explain why some chefs and food companies have begun promoting jackfruit. It has a texture (though not a protein content) like meat’s. It’s starchy and neutral tasting, so “you can do anything with it,” says chef Kajsa Alger, who cooks with it at her L.A. restaurant.

It remains to be seen whether Americans will embrace this South Asian staple, which grows in abundance in its native India. For one thing, jackfruit—from the family that includes breadfruit, figs, and mulberries—oozes a sticky, white substance when cut, and breaking one down takes time. “Basically, they’re big and uncooperative,” says Alger.

But for those who would sample, there is a shortcut: The meaty fruit also comes prepackaged and in cans.