A Local Startup Is Selling Jackfruit as the Next Meat Alternative
When Annie Ryu saw her first jackfruit in India, she thought it was “an Indian porcupine.”
In the years since, she’s come to learn a lot more about the spiky, green fruit—so much that it’s become her livelihood. Ryu is the cofounder of The Jackfruit Company, a Boston-based business that, about five years after Ryu’s first trip to India, is simultaneously supporting the Indian economy and giving Americans a healthy meat alternative, all through fruit.
“It’s a fruit and a tree that’s an incredible natural resource, because a single tree has two to three tons of fruit on it per year without any herbicides, pesticides, without any maintenance,” she says. The catch? Few places in India have the necessary supply chains to harvest the 25-pound fruits commercially, so tons and tons go to waste. Ryu, a Harvard grad initially studying to become a doctor, wanted to change that.
“[I realized] if I could build a company to build supply chains for jackfruit and develop great products with it and connect those to a market,” she says, “it would have a transformative impact on farming families, on opportunities in these rural areas.”
Ryu did just that, supporting Indian communities while exporting the harvested jackfruit to the U.S. Today, The Jackfruit Company sells its product in flavors like barbecue, curry, and Tex-Mex in grocery stores all over the country, retailing for $4.99 a package.
Still skeptical that fruit could act as meat? Though jackfruit tastes decidedly fruity when mature—it’s rumored to be the inspiration for Juicy Fruit—when it’s not yet ripe, it makes a healthy, high-fiber meat substitute that can be grilled, stir-fried, or heated on a stovetop. Ryu says it looks, feels, and tastes so much like meat that shoppers frequently pass up samples because they think it doesn’t fit into their vegetarian diets.
“The opportunity to have an impact with a product that is helping reduce consumption of meat, for people’s health and for the environment, is vast,” Ryu says. “Our systems for producing meat are disease-ridden, it’s cruel for animals, it’s not healthy for the people who are eating it in so many ways. We are trying to provide a really appealing option.”