BREADFRUIT - UNDER-USED FRUIT: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF BREADFRUIT
Breadfruit is thought to have originated in
New Guinea, and scientists have been able to trace human migration between the , by studying the breadfruit trees. They now grow throughout the Pacific, except that they do not grow on Pacific Islands New Zealand’s islands or on Easter Island. They are grown throughout South East Asia and are cultivated in many parts of the world. Breadfruit has been a staple crop in these islands for over 3,000 years.
They get their name because of their starchiness and the fact that when they have been roasted they smell like freshly baked bread, and taste like it too, or perhaps like potatoes. Like bread they are served with butter and salt and pepper on some islands. Even the genus name describes the fruit well - artos means bread in ancient Greek and carpus fruit, while altilis means fat; so the botanical name describes the fruit of the tree, fat breadfruit.
The breadfruit is a close relation of the Jackfruit, and is a member of the Moraceae family of plants, making it more distantly related to mulberries, shahtoot mulberries, the European and Punjabi fig, the tropical fig, peepal and banyan trees, and the Toothbrush or Sandpaper tree, among others.
There are varieties of breadfruit which have seeds, and some which are seedless. Some can be eaten raw, and some need to be roasted or boiled twice, and the water discarded, as they can have purgative effects.
They can be eaten roasted or boiled as a vegetable, usually if they are under-ripe, like plantains, or used mashed, as a dessert, flavoured with cinnamon, rose water and nutmeg, sherry or brandy, with sugar and two beaten eggs. They can also be roasted and stuffed with meat or coconut, so are very versatile.
palm sugar (toddy) until they are crisp and brown.
The roasted seeds taste like a cross between peanuts and chestnuts, and are packed full of minerals and amino acids, plus vitamin C and the B-complex vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin). These can be eaten raw or roasted and ground to a flour for baking.
The breadfruit itself is very nutritious, and if used as food would help the world food shortage. It was introduced into the
Caribbean in the late 1700s and was used to feed slaves on the colonial sugar plantations. Today it is regarded as food for the poor and not generally eaten in the Caribbean. It is packed with carbohydrates and a good source of dietary fibre, containing the minerals, calcium, potassium, magnesium, with small amounts of BI, B2 and B3 vitamins and larger amounts of vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid. The fruit also contains 16 amino acids. The yellow fleshed variety is a good source of provitamin A in the form of carotenoids.
The trees can be propagated by air layering or suckers. This explains, in a way, the Hawaiian legend about the god Ku, who buried himself in the earth, so that the breadfruit tree sprouted from him, thus saving his village from famine. Villagers were exhorted to plant the shoots or suckers that sprang up around the tree, so that they would never go hungry.
Early Hawaiians used the latex from the tree to catch birds. The birds got their feet stuck in the latex and the islanders plucked their feathers for ceremonial cloaks, and then cleaned the sticky latex from the birds’ feet using oil from the candlenut (Aleurites moluccana) or sugar cane juice and then set them free.
The latex is now diluted and used as a remedy for diarrhoea. It is also used to treat skin infections, and may be bandaged onto the spine to relieve sciatica.
The leaves are used for animal feed and as a tisane or decoction to lower blood pressure and help with asthma, while the leaf juice is used as ear-drops for earache. The powdered, roasted leaves are used as a remedy for an enlarged spleen, and the ashes of burned leaves are put on skin infections. Toasted flowers (which begin creamy yellow and then turn brown), are rubbed on gums around a sore tooth for pain relief. The leaves and latex have anti-fungal properties.
The tree is used on some islands in the construction of houses, for boats and the wood is light, so prized for surfboards. The inner bark of the tree is used to make rope and cloth, and the latex is used for glue and to caulk boats. The trees are fast-growing and begin to produce breadfruit when they are between 3 and five years old. They can then go on to produce fruit for decades. They can grow up to 26 metres high- that’s approximately 85 feet tall, and the large leaves can be 30 centimetres long, and split like a Swiss Cheese plant. The fruit itself is interesting as it is a syncarp, meaning that it is composed of multiple fruit from many flowers, which have stuck together to form a single fruit. The rind may be yellow-green, yellow, green or even lavender, and I believe there is also a pink one. Synonyms for this tree include Artocarpus communis and Artocarpus incisus.
The breadfruit is exported to
North America and Europe in small amounts due to the emigration of ethnic peoples, and in some quarters it is considered a gourmet food. It is canned for export as well as being sent fresh in limited quantities.
There is some history behind the introduction of the breadfruit trees into the
Caribbean. They were first noted by Captain James Cook, in the 18th century and when he returned to London, the Admiralty sent Captain Bligh to Tahiti to get some saplings and transport them to the Caribbean, His first attempt to do this in 1787 failed due to the mutiny on his ship the Bounty as his crew had succumbed to the allure of Tahiti and its women. His second attempt was more successful in 1782, and some of the suckers from the original trees are still in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Botanic Gardens in Kingston, St. Vincent.
The breadfruit is a largely overlooked fruit which could use a makeover (like the soursop) if it is to feed more people.