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Jackfruit: meat texture without the nutrients

Jackfruit: meat texture without the nutrients

photo of jackfruit by Shahnoor Habib Munmun via Wiki Commons

If a food product is described as “meat alternative”, I’ll check it out. What are the ingredients? What is the nutritional content? It’s not enough for the product to just resemble meat. A food that supposedly replaces meat should be nutritionally equivalent, righr? So far, after years of effort, no one has achieved that goal with plant ingredients.

We’ve got fake meat that sort of looks like meat, in burger form, because you can’t really create an actual chicken breast or T-bone steak of pork chop with soybeans or quinoa. Even then the burgers are lacking the texture of meat. They’re mushy and usually fall apart easily. They’re usually packaged tightly in plastic to hold the shape. Meat texture is hard to reproduce. Jackfruit to the rescue!

Jackfruit is a tropical fruit that’s related to figs. It grows on trees in Southeast Asia. The fruit is sweet and is typically used as a dessert food. But the chewy texture got the attention of the fake alternative meat manufacturers, and now it turns up in meat substitute foods. I came across a gushy description of a new product (paywall) recently, loaded with PR/marketing phrases like “craveable and juicy flavors” and “crave-worthy” (wow, they’re really stuck on craving things). Jackfruit is touted for it’s meaty texture. That’s nice. What about the nutritional content?

Here’s a comparison of 3 ounces of jackfruit to 3 ounces cooked beef or chicken.

NutrientJackfruit, rawBeef, 90% fat cookedChicken breast, cooked
calories81184142
protein1.4 grams22 grams26.7
fat0.5 grams10 grams3 grams
sugars16 gramszerozero
iron0.2 mg2.3 mg0.9 mg
zinc0.1 mg5.4 mg0.9 mg
B12zero2.2 mcg0.3 mcg
fiber1.3 gramszerozero

When you think of meat, what’s the first nutrient you think of? Protein. Meat, dairy and eggs are the highest quality and most concentrated sources of protein in the diet. If you avoid these, you have to bulk up your diet with higher protein plant foods like legumes, soy foods and nuts. As you can see, bulking up your diet with jackfruit isn’t going to do much for your protein intake. Most of the protein in jackfruit patties seems to come from the other ingredients, namely soy. Even then protein is much less than you’d get in a modest serving of beef or chicken.

Iron, zinc and B12 are also key nutrients we get from meat, but not so much from jackfruit. B12 not at all from any plant food. Fiber? Meat doesn’t have fiber, but then we should be getting fiber from the other vegetables, fruit and whole grains in our diets. And note the high sugar content of jackfruit. Much of that is free fructose and glucose.

chewy low protein

Why the focus on this high sugar tropical fruit for fake meat? Texture. The marketing messages tout the chewy texture, as if texture is all that matters. Well, a sponge would be chewy, but I wouldn’t eat one. I suppose uninformed consumers might be persuaded by texture, if the jackfruit is gussied up with flavoring agents. Jackfruit pieces are sold as a substitute for ground meat in tacos or spaghetti sauce, where the flavor can be disguised by seasonings.

Older adults need to get enough protein to maintain muscle mass. Substituting a chewy low protein tropical fruit for meat isn’t helping protein intake. If you want to include more plant protein foods in your diet, add soy foods, legumes and nuts/nut butters.