By Lizzy Freier

It’s Pinterest’s top trend for 2017 and the “latest miracle food,” according to Epicurious. Jackfruit is generating a buzz. To capitalize, Even Stevens Sandwiches rolled out a Jackfruit Torta that fills two menu holes, says Culinary Director Brandon Price. It taps vegan trends with an ingredient that, unlike tofu- or soy-based options, isn’t lab-made and tastes like meat—a plus for nonvegans who increasingly order veggie dishes. And an ethnic spin gives a nod to the fast casual’s Hispanic base. Originally an LTO, the torta replaced the vegan Sloppy Tina sandwich after outselling it fourfold in its first month.

1. Finding the best form

Using fresh jackfruit wasn’t the answer for the chain. It has to be sourced internationally, and breaking it down is a labor burden: It weighs 50 pounds, has a spiky exterior and sticky sap, and disintegrates when cooked from frozen. Canned jackfruit was the winning solution for Even Stevens, because it breaks down with a texture similar to pork. Plus, says Price, the canned version contributes to high yield.

2. Making fruit meaty

In the torta recipe, jackfruit proved to be a more efficient ingredient to work with than pork. The jackfruit cooks for 30-40 minutes, versus a sous-vide prep over several hours for traditional carnitas. Jackfruit turns acrid when roasted, so Price boils it, then adds a bit of olive oil to give it a pork-like greasiness that’s lacking due to the fruit’s low fat content.

3. The right flavors

The chain originally trialed jackfruit with barbecue sauce, but it was overly acidic. Price also thought the barbecue flavor was so close to meat that it would deter vegans. Instead, boiling the jackfruit with orange juice and zest, plus garlic and cilantro, brings out the fruit’s underlying pineapple essence and is in keeping with traditional Mexican torta flavorings.

4. Building on the business model

In addition to teaching servers how to describe the flavor and texture profile, video training for front-of-house staff centers on how to educate customers on jackfruit’s nutrition and sustainability, playing to the demands of modern diners. These factors further promote the chain’s “sandwich shop with a cause” philosophy, devoted to making sustainable social change.

What’s Next

Even Stevens is currently testing jackfruit in other menu items, including breakfast burritos as well as lunch and dinner versions. Because customers can order jackfruit in other sandwiches (though it’s not overtly advertised), the chain intends to market it in a number of secret menu items in the future.

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