Upton’s Naturals and the Jackfruit Craze: An Interview with Dan Staakmann

When I went to Portland Veg Fest last autumn, I noticed jackfruit seemed to be taking the veg world by storm. I saw several companies marketing their new ready-to-eat jackfruit. Why has this Southeast Asian fruit suddenly made its debut in the American market? It’s long been used for curries in places like Sri Lanka, but now you can find it on the shelves of American health food stores and even in some forward-thinking restaurants.

jackfruit

Behold, the jackfruit!

So when Upton’s Naturals offered me some review samples, I said yes, please. And I asked to interview founder and president Dan Staakmann to get to the bottom of the jackfruit craze. Here’s what he said.

How did you become aware of jackfruit?

Staakmann: Nicole [Sopko, Upton VP] and I first had jackfruit in a curry at a Nepalese restaurant in 2010. We really liked it and learned that people online were using it in recipes for BBQ and tacos. We tracked down a can at an Asian specialty grocery store, but didn’t like the preservatives or the prep time of 1-3 hours to make a simple sandwich. We thought it would be great to have a pre-seasoned jackfruit option with a clean label that just needed to be heated up for a few minutes before you’re ready to eat.

Dan Staakmann jackfruit

Dan Staakmann, president and founder of Upton’s Naturals, hefts a jackfruit.

How did you find a good source?

Finding a good source took a long time. Most companies that were exporting cans didn’t believe us when we told them how much jackfruit we were interested in buying and didn’t want to pack it in anything other than a can. Ultimately, it took getting on a plane and traveling all over Asia to find the right partners.

What were the challenges of getting it to market?

Because we were the first to bring jackfruit like this to market, the sourcing and creation of the production process were the biggest challenges.

Where and how do you process it?

We process everything in Thailand where jackfruit is cultivated. It is simply cut up, paired with our sauces (or not) and packed into a pouch.

What are the nutritional pros and cons?

Jackfruit is a great source of fiber and potassium. It’s not high in protein like other meat alternatives, but that should be fine if you’re not eating it exclusively three meals a day. A balanced diet it is always best!

Thank you, Dan!

Here’s a look at the product, and what you can do with jackfruit.

Upton jackfruit

4 flavors of jackfruit from Upton’s Naturals

 

Upton's Naturals jackfruit

Jackfruit tacos made with chili lime carnitas flavor

 

Upton's Naturals jackfruit

Pasta salad made with Thai curry flavored jackfruit.

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