If you're looking to replace meat with a healthier alternative, look no farther than the jackfruit.
The jackfruit is a tropical fruit, and it's the largest fruit that grows on trees. When cracked open, it has a few yellow bulbs inside -- those are the parts that are edible. As of recently, we've seen jackfruit mostly used as a meat substitute in vegan recipes because of its texture.
Despite its intimidating size and rigid exterior, the jackfruit is manageable and easy to cook with, especially if you get it canned.
According to a restaurant industry report, jackfruit's popularity increased by 131 percent last year. Since gaining traction, it's become easier to find jackfruit in stores, either in cans or as packaged food that's already pre-seasoned with anything from thai curry to chili lime carnitas.
So how does a giant fruit become a stand in for meat?
Due to jackfruit's shreddable texture and bland flavor, it can be cooked and seasoned to resemble barbecue pulled pork, carnitas, etc.
That texture and mild flavor makes it easy to absorb seasoning or spices you cook it with, Haile Thomas, a health activist and vegan food and lifestyle influencer, said. Thomas likes using jackfruit to make different pulled pork recipes.
"If you're purchasing a jackfruit whole, all you do is remove the seeds and the bulbs and shred the chunks in a pan with some olive oil and spices," Thomas said.
"I like doing it kind of like a pulled pork and do a Hawaiian or barbecue pulled jackfruit with it," said the 17-year-old influencer. "It’s pretty easy to cook honestly, and now there are even packaged pulled jackfruit products which can be easier than the can."
Jasmine Briones, a vegan blogger at Sweet Simple Vegan, agrees that the tropical fruit is easy to work with, but you can't just treat it the exact same way you would with meat.
"Since it is pretty flavorless to begin with, you can really use it with any seasoning to bring it to life," Briones said. "It is not an ingredient that you can just pour sauce on and use it as a meat substitute. But rather, it is best to simmer it in sauce to be sure that it soaks into the jackfruit."
Although the jackfruit can be used to substitute meat with things like shredded barbecue pork or carnitas, it's not exactly a perfect trade in. The fruit isn't going to taste exactly like meat and it won't have the same nutritional components of meat.
"Like all meat substitutes (or at least the reasonably unprocessed ones), it doesn't have the same flavor, exactly," said Coco Morante, author of the upcoming "The Essential Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook."
"I wouldn't tuck into a big plate of it on its own expecting a perfect substitute -- it works best when used in recipes and layered with other flavorful ingredients."
Morante notes that jackfruit also doesn't have a lot of protein like other meat substitutes, so it's advisable to add another protein source to your jackfruit meal for a well balanced dish.
While the tropical fruit may not be an exact substitute for your carnitas tacos, Thomas adds that it shouldn't turn you off from at least trying it.
"I don’t think it has to be identical to pork, just trying something different," said the young health advocate. "But the texture is great, it’s something you can play around with."