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What is jackfruit? Why this vegan staple is a perfect substitute for meat, and the star of this birria taco recipe.

food, what is jackfruit? why this vegan staple is a perfect substitute for meat, and the star of this birria taco recipe.

Las Maris Vegan food truck has sold more than 10,000 jackfruit birria tacos. (Photo: Las Maris Vegan)

If you’ve shopped at a supermarket that sells jackfruit, there’s a good chance you walked by the enormous fruit with rough bumpy skin without giving it a second look. But the tropical fruit, which normally weighs between 22 and 50 pounds and can be up to three feet long, has been a staple of vegan cooking for years.

Why? It’s a surprisingly versatile, affordable and healthy food that’s also easy to cook.

Carlos Bryant, co-founder of Las Maris Vegan food truck, features jackfruit prominently on his menu. Bryant says jackfruit birria tacos are among the food truck’s most popular dishes. Since they introduced the tacos under a year ago, Las Maris has sold over 10,000 of them. “I may be biased,” Bryant says, “but I think we make the best jackfruit birria taco in the world.”

He says the tacos taste like authentic Mexican tacos, thanks to a custom mix of seasonings he developed along with his fiancée, who is Mexican, and his two business partners, who are also from Mexico.

Las Maris started as a traditional Mexican food truck in 2019, selling entrees that were heavy on meat and chicken. When Bryant became a vegan for health reasons in early 2021, the fact that he was selling meat to others when he wouldn’t eat in himself started to weigh on him. Almost overnight, he and his partners overhauled their menu to be completely plant-based.

Bryant knew right away he needed a replacement for the beef tacos that had been popular when Las Maris served meat. After considering several options, he decided to go with jackfruit because it has the same consistency as pulled pork and could be seasoned to taste. Because jackfruit is a whole food, it’s also lighter and wouldn’t leave his clients feeling like they had a “food baby” after eating, like they might with some processed meat alternatives.

The jackfruit birria taco was an instant hit. Although Las Maris lost some customers when they switched to a vegan menu, they gained a lot more — some driving a considerable distance to eat there. Many existing customers stuck with them, too, and when anyone has doubts about trying jackfruit, Bryant gives the same advice. “Don’t say you don’t like anything until you’ve tried it,” he says. “At least try a bite.”

Although Bryant had never had jackfruit before he became vegan, he says it’s now a staple of his diet.

But following a a plant-based diet isn’t the only reason to try jackfruit, even if only occasionally. Bryant notes subbing in vegan options when possible is better for the environment, healthier and no animals are mistreated in harvesting the fruit. Jackfruit is also low-calorie, high in antioxidants and contains more vitamins C and B than most other fruits, making jackfruit healthier by some measures than avocados, apricots, apples or bananas.

food, what is jackfruit? why this vegan staple is a perfect substitute for meat, and the star of this birria taco recipe.

Las Maris Vegan food truck started as a meat-serving food truck in 2019 but revamped its menu in 2021 when co-owner Carlos Bryant went vegan. (Photo: Las Maris Vegan)

To cook with jackfruit, you don’t need to haul a 50-pound fresh one home and figure out how cut it open. Bryant recommends using canned jackfruit, which tastes almost as good as buying it fresh at a fraction of the cost and without the hassle. Cans of jackfruit are readily available at many natural food stores and major grocery chains like Whole Foods. A 14-ounce can usually costs less than $5.00 and can be used to feed two or three people.

Jackfruit can be used to make almost anything, including desserts in part of Southeast Asia. Bryant says since jackfruit adopts the taste of any seasonings a cook uses, it can be used to take the place of meat in almost any dish. “When people say they like chicken or beef they really like the way it is seasoned,” Bryant shares, noting that using the same seasonings with jackfruit will yield a similar taste, although not identical.

The fruit can be shredded like chicken and put on top of a salad. Shredded and mixed with barbecue sauce, jackfruit makes a great meat substitute for sloppy joes. Cut jackfruit into chunks and it goes well in Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup. For a simple meal, seasoned jackfruit can be served on top of white rice. Bryant also puts jackfruit into quesadillas, burritos and tamales and shares that he and his team are currently developing additional recipes that use jackfruit, some of which will make their way onto Las Maris’ menu.

The menu isn’t the only thing Las Maris is looking to expand: Bryant and his partners have plans to add multiple food truck locations throughout the U.S., and have a cookbook in the works. Jackfruit will continue to be a staple for Las Maris as they grow, and Bryant is certain jackfruit birria tacos will always be on the menu.

Bryant believes Las Maris’ jackfruit birria tacos are the perfect introduction to jackfruit because they’re simple to make, easy on the wallet and served in small portions. That makes the recipe a nearly risk-free way to dive into cooking with jackfruit.

Want to try the recipe at home? Bryant shares his hit recipe, even letting Yahoo Life in on one of the food truck’s secrets: Add spices to the water when boiling the jackfruit to ensure every fiber is infused with flavor.

Jackfruit Birria Tacos

Courtesy of Las Maris Vegan

food, what is jackfruit? why this vegan staple is a perfect substitute for meat, and the star of this birria taco recipe.

(Photo: Las Maris Vegan)

Ingredients:

    4 14-ounce cans jackfruit

    1 white onion, chopped

    2 Roma tomatoes, diced

    5 dried guajillo chiles

    4 dried chilies de arbols

    3 serrano peppers, diced

    2 cups vegetable stock or 2 tablespoons vegan bouillon

    7 cups water

    1 tablespoon salt

    2 tablespoons vegan bouillon

    1 tablespoon dried oregano

    2 garlic cloves, whole

    3 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions:

1. Boil vegetables and stock (or bouillon and water) in a pot for 5 minutes.

2. After vegetables are soft, put them into a blender. Add 2 cups of water, salt, 2 tablespoons of vegan bouillon, oregano and garlic cloves and blend for about 5 minutes. This will be your consommé (dipping sauce).

3. In another pot, combine jackfruit with 5 cups of water.

4. Pour consommé from the blender into the pot, add 3 tablespoons of oil into the pot and let the mixture boil for 45 minutes.

5. Serve jackfruit (slightly drained) inside lightly fried corn tortillas with your preference of vegan cheese and toppings. We recommend onion, cilantro and salsa. Serve with a side of consommé for dipping.

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