Breadfruit: “Bizarre” and “Inedible” New “Miracle Food”

This may be news for all those among us for whom eating breadfruit is the most commonplace act, but apparently it has just been “discovered” as a “miracle food” that just happens to be “inedible.” Or so writes Julia Flynn Siler in The Wall Street Journal.

The breadfruit is a remarkable food: The prickly football-size pod is full of nutrients and energy. Growing on one of the earth’s highest-yielding trees, it could even help alleviate world hunger, backers believe.

There’s just one problem: It tastes remarkably bland.

“Like undercooked potatoes,” says Diane Ragone, a Kauai horticulturalist.

“You have to kind of fool people to get them to try it,” says Jacqueline Lau, corporate chef for Roy’s Restaurant chain’s Hawaii restaurants.

It’s time the world learned to eat it anyway, says Ms. Ragone. After hopping around 51 Pacific islands to find different breadfruit types, she has assembled more than 120 varieties in a large grove at a National Tropical Botanical Garden site on Maui.

Ms. Ragone and Ms. Lau are part of a movement among breadfruit fans here to teach people to like the tasteless stuff. They have started in Hawaii by pitching it to cooks—professional and domestic—and plan outreach campaigns for the fruit.

Ms. Ragone suggests sautéing breadfruit slices in butter until golden brown, then sprinkling cheese to make breadfruit nachos.

“Think of sautéed breadfruit as a platform for any kind of cuisine or flavor,” she says.

The breadfruit’s proponents say it has unique qualities that could help feed the world’s poor. One tree, a member of the fig family, can produce 450 pounds of fruit per season. The fruit packs 121 calories in a half-cup serving and is rich in fiber, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, copper and other nutrients. Its texture and yeasty odor remind some people of fresh bread.

“I feel it’s the food of the future,” says Olelo pa’a Faith Ogawa, a Hawaii-born private chef. “If I were to speak to the breadfruit spirit, it would tell me: ‘Grow me! Eat me!’ It can feed villages!”

At the inaugural Breadfruit Festival in Captain Cook, Hawaii, contestants found new ways to boil, mash, steam, roast and pickle breadfruit.

Breadfruit has long been a staple in Pacific islands, from where it spread to the Caribbean and Africa.

“It’s something we all grew up with—a comfort food,” says Pamela Young, weekend anchor and food editor of KITV, the ABC station in Honolulu. “You steam it and add butter and salt.”

But persuading neophytes to eat it has never been easy. The fruit is extremely starchy, hence, bland. It can have a mealy texture and tends to spoil quickly, turning into a gooey mush.

Britain’s Royal Society dispatched Capt. William Bligh to Tahiti in 1787 to collect breadfruit specimens to help feed colonies in the West Indies. After Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew mutinied, they tossed overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants he had collected. Capt. Bligh finally delivered breadfruit trees to the Caribbean, but it took almost five decades for locals to develop a taste for it, according to some accounts of his mission.

Epicurious, a recipe website, doesn’t have an entry for breadfruit. Arnold Hiura, author of the 2010 book, “Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands,” mentions it only as a “canoe plant” that Polynesian settlers brought in outriggers to Hawaii. “It’s one of those forgotten foods,” he says.

Even some Hawaii residents are hard to convince. “You know, it’s fattening and it doesn’t even taste that good,” says Michelle Sewell, who has breadfruit trees outside her home on Maui island but never eats the fruit.

Ms. Ragone, the horticulturalist, hadn’t heard of breadfruit until she moved to Kauai in 1979 as a gardener. “The first time I ate it, I didn’t really like it,” she says. “It was really bland.”

She acquired a taste while doing research in Western Samoa in 1985. The 57-year-old Ms. Ragone, now director of the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Breadfruit Institute on Kauai Island, has spent two decades gathering breadfruit specimens and planting them on the island of Maui.

Now, she and other breadfruit believers are ready to teach people that breadfruit can be appetizing, starting in Hawaii. They got help from eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar, a Hawaiian resident, and his wife, Pam, who funded a meeting last year to assemble 25 breadfruit experts to create a plan to encourage people to eat and grow more breadfruit.

The result was a breadfruit initiative that has enlisted chefs and restaurants to pitch the fruit and has sent advocates to local schools to get young people interested in eating breadfruit.

Robin Campaniano, general partner of Ulupono Initiative, the Omidyars’ investment fund and philanthropic organization, says ‘ulu, as breadfruit is called in Hawaiian, could cut down Hawaii’s estimated 90% reliance on food imports. “We look forward to finding out what opportunities might exist, such as creation of a commercial market for breadfruit or development of value-added products such as ‘ulu breads, pancakes or flour,” he said.

As part of the initiative, in September the Breadfruit Institute helped organize an inaugural Breadfruit Festival near the town of Captain Cook, where leading chefs judged a contest to find new ways to boil, mash, steam, roast, pickle and ferment the fruit.

Smoke rose from breadfruit roasting on burning coconut shells. Women mashed the fruit with pestles to make a traditional porridge-like food.

Ms. Lau of Roy’s Restaurants, which has branches in places like Los Angeles and Las Vegas, was among the judges. The best recipes, she says, disguised the breadfruit by adding cream, bacon and cheese.

(Roy’s specializes in Hawaiian food but typically doesn’t offer breadfruit on its mainland menus, she says. “People in the U.S. [mainland] are not used to eating breadfruit,” she says.)

Winning entries included ‘Ulu Tamales with Coleslaw & Salsa; an ‘Ulu Tart (two cups cooked breadfruit, one cup fresh coconut milk, Lehua honey, macadamia nut crust); and a breadfruit salad with cucumbers and dill.

Harriet Bower, an 87-year-old tourist from Washington state, hadn’t tried breadfruit before that morning when she tasted a sample. “It didn’t have much taste,” she concluded.

Sonia R. Martinez, a Hawaii-based food writer who helped organize the contest, says that when she was growing up in Cuba, breadfruit was something she never considered eating. “Most people fed it to the pigs,” she says.

Ms. Martinez, a contest judge, paused when asked if she could taste the breadfruit in the tart. “Umm…not really” she said. “‘Ulu doesn’t really have a taste.”

April Peveteaux, in an article for thestir.com, offers some ways of eating the stuff:

1. Mashed Breadfruit With Cream Cheese & Chives

Skin the breadfruit, cut into chunks, and boil. When it softens, add butter, milk, cream cheese, and chives and mash. Voila! It’s your new Thanksgiving side dish.

2. Breadfruit Nachos

The conventional wisdom is breadfruit tastes best while disguised, So cut it into strips, fry up the strips, then add black beans, cheese, tomatoes, and jalapeno peppers. YUM.

3. Breadfruit Fries

You can deep fry anything and it tastes good. Add some sea salt, and you’ll get your daily intake of potassium, calcium, and copper along with some crunchy goodness.

4. Breadfruit Tart

In a recipe contest, one entrant admits you can’t taste the breadfruit in this tart, but still, it’s a tasty tart. The winning ingredients: two cups cooked breadfruit, one cup fresh coconut milk, Lehua honey, macadamia nut crust.

5. Breadfruit Salad

Make your regular tasty salad and use a peeler to shred pieces of breadfruit on top of it. Bam! You’ve got the nutritional value in tiny bites.

For the original reports go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203752604576645242121126386.html and http://thestir.cafemom.com/food_party/128189/5_ways_to_eat_bizarre

9 thoughts on “Breadfruit: “Bizarre” and “Inedible” New “Miracle Food”

  1. Boy have we been way ahead on this one !! I like to stuff my Thanksgiving (or any) turkey with mofongo de pana (heavy on the garlic) for that “sabor criollo”…interesting post !

    1. Yes! And how about some of those wonderful breadfruit fritters or the old staple dish, boiled breadfruit with cod, onions, and extra virgin olive oil (panas con bacalao guisado)?

  2. Aloha Lisa; Hawaiians don’t think breadfruit is a new discovery. It was brought to Hawaii by the early Polynesian voyagers in their seafearing canoes and was a staple and consumed in the islands for hundreds of years. After the Europeans ‘discovered’ the islands and the missionaries came, the use of most things native to the Hawaiians was discouraged…and eating ‘ulu or breadfruit was one of the things that sort of went by the wayside, but not by everyone. Now, a group of dedicated enthusiasts are trying to bring the consumption of ‘ulu back to the forefront and introduce it to the many people of all different cultures that have come to live on these islands. Mahalo nui for sharing the ridiculous article written for the WSJ. The writer took only the comments that sounded negative and did not write a well balanced article.

    1. Aloha!
      What would life be without breadfruit? The irony of “discovering” breadfruit is just so sad since it means you have missed out on the pleasures of growing up with all kinds of wonderful dishes. Bring on the breadfruit with saltcod.

  3. hmmm. thanks for sharing article. After returning from Martinique w/ almost daily meals w/ breadfruit, I recall, as I was reminded there, that breadfruit does not travel well, a major reason for which this fruit, enjoyed more as a vegetable, is so rarely served in our northern climates…

  4. I first encountered and ate breadfruit in Samoa during a conference. “Bland” is an overstatement; worse than simply bland, the breadfruit is extremely dry on the palate; your mouth is so dry it makes you choke. Hence, adding a lot of butter and/or cheese will tend to make it more palatable. Really, what needs to be done is to work with the genetics and try to get a cross between breadfruit and figs “figbread” would likely taste very good. Narayan,
    Founder and Chairman,
    Flag IntraGlobal

  5. Well, I am surprised. The breadfruit was brought to St.Vincent and the Grenadines by Captain Bligh in the 1700’s as a cheap food to feed slaves. We have about 25-30 varieties here. When I was the Tourism Minister here in 2004, I started a Breadfruit Festival in August which is called Emancipation month. It is still held . A Breadfruit recipe book has since been published by the St.Vincent and the Grenadines Hotel & Tourism Association, and is available for sale. Email – office@svghotels.com. The book features appetizers to desserts and cocktails and punches and pizza. None are bland. All very exciting. A sucker from the plant brought by Captain Bligh is still in the Botanical Gardens established in 1765 in St.Vincent; and today, we have a”saying”- don’t cut down my breadfruit tree”. A major political party of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – the St.vincent Labour Party used the breadfruit as a party symbol and it was the centre-piece of the Nation’s Independence Flag raised on 27th October 1979

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