The world is full of interesting things to eat and drink, yet most of us get to taste only a fraction of them. For example: I’d wager that most of us in North America had never heard of jackfruit until relatively recently—sometime in the past decade, say.
Some of that rising jackfruit awareness has been driven by vegetarian cooks looking for fleshy, plant-grown texture that can be shaped into meat-like foods. Yet still more has been driven by the inexorable movement of foods via globalization—specifically, cooking shows and social media showing us more of the world’s cuisines, and Asian markets in urban and suburban neighborhoods, there to serve immigrants, Asian-Americans, and curious cooks from anywhere.
So, what’s a jackfruit? For starters, it’s a tropical fruit in the same family as figs and mulberries, and the trees are widely grown in South and Southeast Asia. It’s also big: The fruit are among the largest in the fruit kingdom, with a few getting as big as 100 pounds (45 kg) or more, though most are around 20 to 30 pounds (9 to 14 kg).
It has a tough, bumpy, pale-green exterior; cutting it open reveals the pale, yellow, segmented flesh inside. Its flavor when ripe is a creamy sweetness sometimes compared to banana, ripe mango, or pineapple—or to custard, a treat often made with jackfruit and one that’s also evoked by its softness. When unripe, it has what some describe as a texture like shredded meat—one reason that vegetarians have embraced it for riffs on pulled pork or other barbecue dishes.
Jackfruit may be most popular in South Asia, including Bangladesh (where it’s officially the national fruit), India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. On the subcontinent, it finds its way into curries, desserts, dosas (Indian pancakes), and jams; people also eat them fresh, ripe, and raw. While other warm parts of the world also grow and eat jackfruit—including in Africa, Australia, and South America—for many South Asians, its taste is one that they might identify with home.
Nowhere, however, is it common to put jackfruit into beer.
South Asian Flavor
If jackfruit beer does take off, we can thank Ruvani de Silva.
Founder of an online forum called the South Asian Beer Club, de Silva has taken the lead on efforts to connect South Asian brewers and beer enthusiasts wherever they happen to be and, thus, to strengthen their representation in the industry. In November 2021, she chaired a panel at the Beer Culture Summit at Chicago’s Brewseum, entitled “Where Are All the South Asians in Beer?” That discussion led eventually, earlier this year, to a collaboration among four breweries with owners of South Asian heritage. Those breweries are Azadi in Chicago plus three in Texas: Misfit Outpost in Cypress, Roughhouse in San Marcos, and Windmills in Dallas.
Looking for a distinctive flavor to represent their heritage, the brewers decided on jackfruit. The only rule: They each had to brew a lager with it—any style of lager—given that lager is by far the most popular type of beer on the subcontinent. Beyond that, each brewer could get as creative as they liked.
At Misfit Outpost, co-owner and assistant brewer Sarah Nadeem opted to brew a rice lager. With cofounder and head brewer Juan Sanchez, she developed a recipe and a plan.
Brewing with Jackfruit
Given the ever-widening variety of aseptic fruit purees available to brewers, it shouldn’t be a shock that jackfruit is one of them. Nadeem, however, opted to work with whole fruit and process it herself.
She cut open the whole fruit, carefully removed the arils—those are the sweet, fleshy bits that you want to eat—and then removed the seeds from the arils. “When you cut open a jackfruit,” Nadeem says, “it’s a bit scary-looking because there’s a lot going on.” She pureed the deseeded arils in a blender and froze the fruit—to help break down the cell walls—before thawing and adding it to the fermentor.
Seeking a jackfruit accent for their crisp lager rather than dominant fruit flavor, Nadeem and Sanchez used about eight ounces in a half-barrel batch—or a bit less than three ounces per five gallons (roughly 4 grams/liter). “Ultimately this is purely a brewer’s choice, if they would want more or less fruit presence in their final beer.”
Because jackfruit lacks much in the way acidity, leaning mainly on its sweetness for flavor, fermentation is going to strip away some of that character. With that in mind, Nadeem and Sanchez opted to give the flavor a little boost with a modest whirlpool hop addition.
“Taste-testing the jackfruit prior to adding to beer gave us a sweet mango-apple-like flavor with subtle banana notes,” Nadeem says. “We decided to use Talus hops to balance these notes, keeping in mind that it would be possible that any sweet notes may be lost during the refermentation. We were left with a hint of mango-like flavor that plays extremely well with this style.”