FRESNO, Calif. — Jackfruit is one of the hottest food trends nationwide and Miriam Martinez is bringing it to the streets of Fresno.
As the owner of La Jacka Mobile, Martinez is one of the first, if not the only, using jackfruit — a meat alternative — in her tacos, burritos and quesadillas.
So what is jackfruit and why is it becoming popular?
For starters, it’s one of the largest tree fruits in the world, weighing up to 100 pounds. It’s also rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. When harvested ripe, it’s a sweet-tasting fruit. But when picked young, the fruit’s meaty texture resembles that of chicken or pulled pork. It’s for that reason that many vegetarians in the U.S., or those looking for non-meat options, are starting to embrace this jumbo fruit.
To first-timers, jackfruit can look intimidating. Its skin is thick, yellowish and pebbly. Inside are edible seeds wrapped in a fleshy bright yellow pod that’s the fruit. The pod’s meaty texture is mildly sweet, with notes of pineapple, pear, banana and papaya.
Jackfruit is grown in India, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Mexico, where Martinez became familiar with it years ago.
Although the fruit is still somewhat undiscovered in Mexico, Martinez has been cooking jackfruit for more than two decades. She decided two years ago to introduce it to the Fresno market and her timing could not have been better. Recently, Pinterest named jackfruit as one of its top trends for 2017. And its appeal as a meat substitute continues to grow.
“It’s healthy, it tastes good and people are looking for an alternative to meat,” she said “And there are so many things that you can do with it. It is an amazing fruit.”
Inside her cozy food truck recently, Martinez and her daughter, Daniela Martinez, were busy preparing for the evening’s round of customers. Martinez uses ripe and unripe jackfruit depending on which dish she is making.
Unripe jackfruit is whitish in color with very little, if any, sweetness. When eaten raw, it tastes slightly like an artichoke heart or heart of palm. But much like cooking tofu, the bland-tasting jackfruit takes on whatever flavors it’s cooked with.
In the hands of an expert cook like Martinez, jackfruit tastes special. Using her own combination of spices, grapeseed oil and Mexican chilies, the jackfruit takes on several layers of spicy flavors. She lets it sizzle on the hot grill until steam begins to rise. Once it’s heated through, she scoops it into a lightly grilled corn tortilla and tops it with cilantro, onion and a dash of lime.
It’s taco heaven, said Lourdes Oliva, one of Martinez’s biggest fans and supporters. “She is such a good cook that everything she does with jackfruit tastes good,” Oliva said.
Martinez uses jackfruit as a meat substitute in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tortas — she can even make a hamburger with a bun or in a lettuce wrap.
“I want people to know that there are healthier ways to eat that don’t also involve eating meat, but that are still very good tasting,” she said. “I’m proud of my cooking and want people to try it.
For those who prefer the sweeter taste of jackfruit, Martinez and her daughter have created several drinks, including smoothies, fruit waters and her own version of a jackfruit tea.
The jackfruit with cucumber and lemon is a simple, completely refreshing drink.
“We still have a lot of people who come to the truck and don’t understand what jackfruit is,” said Daniela Martinez. “But once they try it, in a taco or in a smoothie, they come back for more.”