Monday, October 7, 2013

Breadfruit Food for a Famine

 It is thought that breadfruit trees spread throughout the Pacific Region by migrating Polynesians and were brought from the Samoan Island of Upalu to Oahu in the 12th Century. Its common name in Hawaiian is ulu, as it is also in Samoa, Rotuma and Tuvalu. The fruit is a staple food in many Pacific Island cultures.

The Movie
Some will remember the movies, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Bounty. Did you know it was all about breadfruit? Due to several famines in Jamaica between 1780 and 1786, plantation owners in the British West Indies petitioned King George III to import breadfruit trees in order to provide a food source for the slaves. Captain Bligh sailed to Tahiti in 1787 to obtain breadfruit plants to transport them to the British West Indies. On that calamitous voyage, he lost 1,015 potted breadfruit plants. Was the true reason for the mutiny the fact that he rationed water to his crew in order to give ample water the plants? Was Captain Blight a true gardener at heart? For more details, see the movie or read the book.  After being forced overboard in a nineteen foot cutter, Bligh miraculously navigated himself and some of his faithful crew to safety, crossing almost 4,000 miles.

 After returning to England, Bligh set sail again, in 1791, for Tahiti, and this time he was able to successfully deliver 5 different varieties of breadfruit trees, totaling 2,126 plants, to Jamaica in 1793.  The trees flourished and were subsequently planted in other islands of the West Indies as well as Central America and northern South America. Ironically, it is reported that the slaves rejected the fruit. But today, Bligh is revered as a hero in Jamaica.

Breadfruit trees are medium sized, growing to about 50 tall at maturity. There are hundreds of different varieties of breadfruit, both seeded and seedless types. It is truly a tropical plant, more susceptible to cold than the mango. The breadfruit tree is best grown in deep, fertile, well-drained soil. The optimal growing range temperature is 60° to 100°F.  Due to the large number of different varieties of breadfruit, however, trees do exhibit a wide range of adaptability to ecological conditions.

Seeded breadfruit varieties can be grown from seeds. But it has been noted that they do not run true to type. Seedless breadfruit is often propagated by transplanting suckers which spring up naturally from the roots. Pruning the tree will increase the number of suckers produced, as will exposing and injuring a root. New branches and shoots can also be air layered.

Breadfruits are abundant in Hawaii from July to February.  Fruit is picked when mature, which is indicated by the appearance of small drops of white latex on the surface. Breadfruit can be eaten before it is ripe, as a vegetable, or eaten as a fruit when it ripens.  For the former, it is picked while still starchy and is boiled or roasted. Fully ripe fruit are sweeter and often baked whole. The seeds are boiled, steamed, roasted and eaten with salt. The leaves are eaten by domestic livestock.

Breadfruit is high in carbohydrates and a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. The trees are relatively free of pests and insects; fruit flies will infest ripe fruit. The following websites contain an abundance of information for an in-depth study of breadfruit trees.  

Photos by Forest and Kim Starr