Flavorful vegan jackfruit carnitas tacos are infused with red wine, cumin, ancho chili powder, and coriander. They are then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and guacamole. They are destined to become a dinner favorite!
I’ve come around on my feelings about jackfruit.
The first time I had it, about 9 years ago in Los Angeles, it came with a lot of hype. Everyone was talking about how it was exactly like pulled pork, but totally vegan.
In actuality, while it looked exactly like pulled pork, it didn’t really have any flavor or texture on its own. It’s quite soft. And because it’s lower in calories than a lot of vegan meats, it wasn’t long before I was hungry again.
(That’s why when I made my own vegan pulled pork-style sandwich, vegan BBQ sandwich with coleslaw, I used Soy Curls instead. They have great chew & bite, plus lots of protein.)
Of course, I have had my fair share of good jackfruit in restaurants over the years. Some highlights that come to mind are the now-defunct FÜD in Kansas City, Reverie in Minneapolis (then a restaurant, now a food truck), and No Bones Beach Club while seeing the vegan Seattle sites.
It has a smokiness to it, including some burnt black bits. Best of all, it has added body & bite, because they add tahini to the ingredients!
With fully shredded jackfruit, that addition of tahini makes the jackfruit stick together in a way that’s reminiscent of roast beef. The tahini also masks any lingering metallic taste from jackfruit sold in cans. Plus, it gives an extra little bump of protein.
So not only have I been buying the Herbivorous Butcher shredded chicken-style jackfruit (highly recommended!), I’ve also been preparing jackfruit on my own.
Cans of jackfruit are now sharing space in my lazy susan – along with black beans and chickpeas. Welcome home, jackfruit!
Where to buy jackfruit
You can find jackfruit so many places nowadays. It used to take a lot more looking!
- I buy mine at Trader Joe’s. It’s sold in the center aisles with their other canned products.
- It’s available at most natural grocery stores, including Whole Foods. Look in the aisles with other Asian foods – like tamari or rice noodles.
- You can also find it in standalone Asian markets. (The Indian market in my town carries it.)
What kind of jackfruit should I buy?
Buy green jackfruit in a can like this for jackfruit carnitas.
This is important – you want to buy canned jackfruit that is packed in water or brine, not the kind in syrup. It’s sometimes called “green jackfruit.”
As the name would suggest, jackfruit is a fruit. The kind that’s in cans in water or brine is not ripe yet. (That’s why it’s “young” jackfruit.)
Don’t buy fresh, ripe jackfruit for jackfruit carnitas.
The massive kind that is sold fresh in the produce area won’t work for this recipe either. It’s lovely on its own, but the flavor profile is totally different than the kind sold in cans.
Ripe jackfruit is very sweet and kind of reminds me of canned peaches + mango in taste and texture.
(If you ever want to buy ripe jackfruit just for its own sake, some grocery stores sell it in slices – as shown above. That’s really convenient when you don’t want to commit to a whole, watermelon-sized jackfruit.)
Jackfruit carnitas tacos
The way that I’ve been preparing jackfruit most often these days is as a taco filling. These jackfruit carnitas are infused with wine, ancho chili powder, cumin, and other spices.
Then once the jackfruit is totally infused with flavor and almost ready to serve, I add tahini to the skillet, so that the jackfruit becomes clumpy, and gets some bite to it.
It’s wonderfully flavorful, and I’ve been making it at least once a week for the past couple of months. I hope you will love it as much as I do!
(If you do, you will also love my vegan French dip sandwich made with jackfruit!)
How to make jackfruit carnitas tacos
Start by draining the jackfruit. Then give the jackfruit a good, generous rinse in a colander or berry bowl.
The jackfruit will be in large triangle shapes. You can use all parts of the jackfruit, unless any of the pods seem very hard.
Blot the jackfruit pieces on a towel to dry them, and then move them to a food processor with an S-blade.
Pulse the food processor 5 or 6 times. You want the jackfruit to be shredded in pieces, but not to the point of becoming jackfruit hummus.
By shredding the jackfruit first into smaller pieces, any spices and flavorings that are added get fully infused into them. If you have bigger pieces of jackfruit, all of the flavor doesn’t get fully saturated into it.
Now it’s time to brown the jackfruit!
Heat a non-stick skillet with a light layer of oil. My skillet is medium sized, but if you have a large skillet, use that instead.
Like all foods, jackfruit browns best when the pan isn’t overcrowded. So I brown the jackfruit in stages.
Lightly layer the skillet with jackfruit. Don’t move it until it’s fully brown on one side, then flip it and brown the other side.
Now scoot that cooked jackfruit to one side of the skillet, add a little more oil, and then fry the remaining jackfruit on the empty side. Do the same thing all over again – brown one side, flip it, and brown the other.
Then combine all of the jackfruit.
Scoot all of the jackfruit to one side, add additional oil to the empty part of the skillet, and throw in onions & garlic. Sauté that for a couple of minutes, and then combine the onions & garlic with the jackfruit.
Now it’s time to infuse the jackfruit with flavor, and de-glaze the pan.
(That means any burnt bits on the bottom will all get incorporated.)
Add red wine to the skillet. I like to use a dry red wine like Carmenere, Garnacha, or Tempranillo. (Those all happen to be my favorite wines period. So if you wanted to buy a bottle of wine for me, now you know. 😉 )
Albero Tempranillo and La Granja Tempranillo/Garnacha at Trader Joe’s both have “vegan” right on the label. Otherwise, check out Barnivore to find out a wine’s vegan status.
By the way, this is a great way to use any remaining wine in a bottle that’s leftover. I often pull from wine in the refrigerator that I’m not planning on drinking, but is still perfectly good.
In addition to the wine, add water, the no beef flavor of Better Than Bouillon, cumin, coriander, ancho chili powder, paprika, tamari, and salt.
Remember that ancho chili powder is different from standard chili powder. Ancho chili powder is made from ground dried ancho chilies – one ingredient. While standard chili powders are made with a mixture of spices, often including cayenne.
So while you can use chili powder instead, it may be hotter, spicier, and slightly different in flavor profile than with ancho chili powder. I recommend seeking out ancho chili powder and adding it to your spice cabinet.
Let the jackfruit simmer in the liquid & spices. After about ten minutes, it should cook down, and the jackfruit will be mostly dry.
Turn the heat off, and add tahini to the jackfruit. Use a spatula to fully combine it.
Taste for heat and salt. Add more salt, if you like, and/or a few dashes of hot sauce. For this dish, I like to use Trader Joe’s jalapeño hot sauce that I talked about in my post on my 3 top hot sauces.
What if I don’t have a food processor?
No problem! In that case, just brown the large pieces of jackfruit in a light layer of oil on the skillet. Get both sides nice and brown.
Then use your spatula to break it up into pieces, as small as you can. Brown it a little more.
Then jump to the step where you add more oil, onions, and garlic (step 5 in the recipe box below), and continue from there.
Once the jackfruit carnitas are ready, it’s time to taco!
Heat the taco shells according to the package directions, or use an air fryer.
How to air fry taco shells
I like to heat my hard corn shells in the air fryer. I keep them nested inside of each other, and put them straight into the basket. (If you have the little paper cone in the last one, that’s even better, because then the taco shell won’t close in on itself.)
Heat at 370 degrees for three to four minutes. Be careful taking the shells out of the air fryer. They will be hot. (I like to use my toast tongs when removing them.)
If you’d prefer to use soft corn tortillas or wheat tortillas, that will work too. It’s your call!
Load it up!
Add jackfruit carnitas to each shell, plus lettuce, tomatoes, a dollop of easy guacamole, and a pinch of non-dairy cheese.
My preferred cheese for taco-making is Daiya in a cheddar block. I don’t like the pre-shredded Daiya very much, but if you use the cheddar-style farmhouse block and shred it by hand, it’s remarkably good.
(You can find my other favorite vegan cheeses in this post, The Best Vegan Cheese For Your Every Need.)
I hope you love these tacos as much as we’ve been loving them at my house. They turned me around from a once or twice-a-year jackfruit person to someone who makes it weekly.
If you have jackfruit carnitas leftovers, make vegan taquitos! They can be cooked in the air fryer or oven.
If you make this jackfruit carnitas recipe and love it, please let me know! It’s a big help to me and other readers if you can rate it 5 stars & leave a comment.