Friday, September 16, 2011

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)

Behind our house we have two breadfruit trees that were planted by previous Samoan occupants.  I am in love with these two large trees.  Not only do they provide a large shade area for our family BBQs and birthday parties, but their big, dinner platter size leaves are beautiful when viewed through the window and  keep the back rooms of the house cooler.  Breadfruit was carried out into the Pacific islands by the ancient Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian settlers.  I think it is a pity that breadfruit has been neglected by modern Hawaiians who put a big emphasis on taro when they also ate breadfruit anciently. Taro, like potato, requires a lot of manual labor to get a good harvest.  An established breadfruit tree is a heavy provider of food for minimal work.  Just pick the fruit and cook it.  It is no wonder that Captain Bligh, of the infamous mutiny on the ship Bounty, was trying to take breadfruit trees from Tahiti to the Caribbean to feed the slaves there.  One breadfruit is the size of a cantaloupe melon and each tree can give a crop of a few hundred or more of these.


Breadfruit provides a fair amount of nutrients if you are eating a slice or two as a substitute for a potato.  However, an average Pacific islander can easily eat a whole breadfruit in one meal.  This not only gives needed energy calories but now the breadfruit jumps up to become a significant source of nutrients to its eater.  It is especially good in fiber, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

The Pacific islanders developed over a hundred different varieties of breadfruit over the centuries.  The type I have growing in out back yard is called Ma'afala by the Samoans.  It is a variety that I would recommend.  Some scientists think that breadfruit should be the crop of the future.  Apart from providing food to the growing hungry in the tropics, flour made from the dried fruit does not contain gluten.  If you want to do more research on breadfruit, I recommend the website:   ntbg.org/breadfruit


Breadfruit trees can grow very tall so when they get higher than  two to three times the height of our house, we top the trees to about the height of the house.  Otherwise we will not be able to reach the fruit and and the ripe fruit will fall with a big plop to the ground and are wasted.   It is sad to chop the tree but they quickly grow back although we may miss a crop.  I guess arborists would be against this, but it is what they do in the islands.  Trees seem to grow well anywhere but will produce less leaves and fruit if they get too much salt wind.  As you can tell, you do need a bit of room in your yard to grow them.

Breadfruit trees do have a habit of dropping their leaves on a regular basis.  Unfortunately this leads to them getting chopped down by grounds crews to make less work for them.  I get so upset when such good food providing trees are lost to the community.  Just expect that you are going to be doing a bit of raking of leaves at least once a week.  You can also do what they do in the Pacific islands....send the little kids out to pick up the leaves every morning.  I just feed the leaves back into the tree by leaving them to compost under the tree.  I have a circle of logs under the tree to hold the composting leaves in place.


Baby breadfruit trees can be grown from seed but will not grow from branch cuttings.  Usually young trees are grown from root cuttings.  Occasionally a small baby tree will grow up from the spreading roots on its own. Let the baby tree grow  a few feet and then it is just a matter of cutting the baby tree away, with a bit of the root included, and getting it established in a pot or prepared ground.

Here in Hawaii, my breadfruit trees usually give two crops a year.  One in July/August and one in October/November.  However I was surprised last year to get a third crop around Christmas time.  To harvest the fruit, we use a very long pole about 13 feet long.  It has a peg of wood tied in place at the tip to form a Y shape.  You use this to reach way up in the tree to twist the breadfruit stems until the fruit drops down.  It is handy to have somebody standing by to catch them, but if not there is minimal bruising if they hit the ground.


Breadfruit are eaten as a cooked starch vegetable, much like potatoes.  You pick the fruit just before it goes fully ripe and soft.  The fruit surface will change from green with small bumps to a flatter surface with a slight yellowing.  There will also be dried white dribbles of sap running down the fruit.  When you pick the fruit the stem will bleed this white sticky sap for a few minutes so it is a good idea to leave them on the ground for few minutes to dry off and then be careful of the sap when you pick them up so you do not get the sap on your clothes.

To cook breadfruit, you peel the fruit and then cut it into chunks.  Then you boil it in salted water until fork soft.  About 15 to 20 minutes.  Then just drain off the water and it is ready to eat.  The fruit core is not eaten so you can remove it before cooking or while eating.  If you want a special treat you could also add a can of coconut cream to your hot boiled breadfruit.  Just pour the coconut cream into the pot over the breadfruit and then put the pot back on the stove to boil for a few minutes to make the cream thicken up.  Onions and salt can also be added to the coconut cream.  Just like potatoes, breadfruit can also be baked in a oven (about one hour) or cooked in a microwave (about 12 minutes for one).  I often boil one breadfruit  to eat hot with dinner and then the cold leftover will be sliced and fried with eggs for breakfast.  I have used cold, cubed, cooked breadfruit in a "potato salad" and guests have been none the wiser.  A special treat for when the grand-children come by is breadfruit chips.  Peel and thinly slice a raw breadfruit and fry the slices in hot oil. Sprinkle with salt and serve with ketchup.  I guarantee your young guests will love them.

If you have not already eaten breadfruit, I hope you will now be willing to try it out.  Maybe you will even become an enthusiast like me.  Aloha

PS    January, 2014

Last week I attended an event in Honolulu promoting breadfruit..."Tree to Table".  There really is a push locally to get people back to eating more breadfruit.  One chef said that his personal goal was to get the people of Hawaii to stop making potato and macaroni salad and use steamed breadfruit in the salads instead.  One thing that I had totally never heard before was how to keep the breadfruit from getting ripe too fast after picking.  You simply put the newly picked fruit into a bucket of ice water for at least 10 minutes to stop the ripening process or you can even leave it there in the shade overnight and maybe it will hold the fruit from ripening for a week....or so they said.  Try it out and see how it works for you.  You can put the fruit in the fridge to delay ripening but the skin will turn really brown and unattractive.  Some of the chefs were using the really ripe and soft breadfruit in sweet desserts.

December, 2014

Well this is an add on recipe that I would never have thought of putting on the blog when I wrote it.  It defies all uses of breadfruit that I have known.  The recipe was in our local Honolulu newspaper a few weeks ago and I have finally had a ripe breadfruit to try it.  What a mind shift and what a cheap and nutritional way of making breakfast for the family.   This is a simple and easy recipe for making pancakes.  Take one very ripe and soft breadfruit, remove the skin and core and scoop the flesh into a blender or food processor.  Whir it up with 6 eggs and a bit of salt and there is your pancake batter ready to go.  Just cook it on the griddle as you would any kind of pancake and serve with butter and syrup or jam etc.  A sprinkle of cinnamon goes nicely with it too.  The starch of the fruit replaces your flour, the sweetness of the fruit replaces sugar and the eggs give you protein.  Plus the breadfruit has lots of good nutrition and will be higher in vitamins because of being ripe.  It makes a perfect batter consistency and the taste is a slightly fruity pancake.....maybe like you had added mashed bananas to a pancake batter.  An extra useful alternative for those people who are trying to be gluten free but missing their traditional pancakes.  Before, I would be throwing out a breadfruit that had got too soft and ripe.....now I am wanting ripe fruit!  Try it out.  If you find the breadfruit flavor too strong you could combine the fruit with flour, going half half.

September, 2016

A few weeks ago I had the chance to sit in on the Breadfruit Summit that was held for four days at the Polynesian Cultural Center here on Oahu island, Hawaii.  This was a gathering of many international experts on breadfruit.  This included botanists, scientists, farmers, doctors and business owners.  All of them were sharing their growing knowledge on the fruit that is growing in stature around the world.  Maybe you have even noticed magazine and news articles lately about breadfruit and how it is being recognized around the tropical world as a power food.  I want to add on here some notes I made at the summit that was new stuff to me and may be of interest to you.

---There is a growing industry in making breadfruit flour which is gluten free.  Some islands are just starting out with solar drying etc. but others now have a sophisticated product for export.  The Puou variety makes the most flour.  Cannot use bruised fruit so have to pick carefully.

---Breadfruit flour has a better starch quality than corn starch.  It has good potential in commercial production of sauces.

---Can also use breadfruit flour in non gluten baked goods.  Best to keep amount below 20% of total flours so that the breadfruit flavor is not too strong.

---Breadfruit has a low glycemic level rate of 60 which makes it much more suitable for diabetics to eat than rice or bread.  Need to go back to traditional foods on Pacific Islands for better health.

---Ma'afala variety of breadfruit has the highest protein level.  ( aprox. 6%)  This is a complete protein and is therefore better than soy bean as a protein additive.

---Breadfruit is a good hard wood for woodwork.

---The latex from the breadfruit tree has possible market use as a bioplastic.

---If growing lots of breadfruit trees, grow them 10 meters apart.

--The male breadfruit flower is a natural insecticide.  You can burn the dried male flowers to use like mosquito punk coils.  This is an Hawaiian cultural practice that has now been proven effective by scientific study.  ( Yep....now I am drying a bunch of the male flowers ready for when we are sitting outside in the evening. I place them on top of an upside down can to burn)

---Video at PonoPies.com of processing breadfruit.  They use mature fruit to make hummus and ripe fruit to make pies.  Very yummy samples were shared.

---FAO.org has free manual on commercial propagation of breadfruit and breadnut.

--Agroforestry.net   A super wonderful site for all things to do with plant growing/farming in the Pacific Islands.


March 2017

Something new and interesting about ulu.   There was a recent article in a Hawaii newspaper about a cattle rancher on the Big Island.  He talked about how the big 100 year old breadfruit trees on his property served as fodder for his cattle during the dry season.  When the really dry weather occurred the grass would wither.  At the same time, the breadfruit trees would try to conserve water by dropping lots of leaves.  These large dropped leaves were happily eaten by the cattle and kept them going through the dry season.  I thought this was really cool.  I have long thought that my dream farm would have a noni tree in the pig pen.  Now I know that I need to have breadfruit trees out in the paddock as well.  Would have to protect the young trees with a fence though.