During our recent trip to Kahanu Garden in Hana we got the added bonus of being introduced to the Breadfruit Institute, located right at the front gates and part of the garden itself. The Institute’s mission is to promote the conservation and use of breadfruit for food and reforestation.
I know many of you are saying “What the heck is a breadfruit?” Because it is not something you will find tucked in between the carrots and lettuce at your local supermarket, unless you live in the tropics. Though you may have seen it at your favourite Asian market or specialty food store.
A member of the fig family, breadfruit or ulu in Hawaiian is a pale yellow green colour (varies) and usually a little smaller than a volleyball. Starchy in texture, breadfruit has a similar smell to fresh bread when it is baked. At its simplest, the fruit is baked whole in the coal of an open fire or in an Imu but modern chefs are creating new and tasty ways to prepare this prolific fruit.
At the Institute you can walk through an orchard of breadfruit that includes more than a hundred varieties of the tree that have been collected from all over the world. Cultivated for centuries in the South Pacific, the seeds were spread throughout Polynesia by French explorers and eventually found their way to over 90 countries. Hundreds of varieties have been cultivated and it has played an important part of both diet and daily living for millions of people over the years.
The trees themselves are quite large and can produce 100 to 150 breadfruit per harvest and also provides construction material, medicine, insect repellant and even animal feed. The trees are very easy to grow and will produce fruit for decades after about 3 to 5 years.
Recognizing this, the Breadfruit Institute was initiated to research the possibility of feeding the hungry in tropical climates. Considering 80% of world hunger occurs in tropical locations it truly seems to be a “no brainer” that the propagation of this plant to be developed. With little attention, the breadfruit tree will thrive not only producing fruit, but providing shade and shelter to humans and pollinating animals such as bees and birds. Compared to other crops like potatoes, plantains or root crops the breadfruit can far out produce them in the same amount of space because they are a vertical crop, some large established trees can produce 400 to 600 fruits in a 25 square meter foot print.
Breadfruit is packed with nutrition and a great source of energy through carbohydrates. The fruit can be used in place of any starch like pasta, rice or potato in the diet and can be eaten at any stage of ripeness. The immature breadfruit has a similar taste to artichoke and as it matures becomes sweeter and creamier. The seeds found in some varieties can even be roasted or boiled and eaten, with a taste similar to chestnuts, or milled into flour. Breadfruit is truly a super food that gives on many different levels with little effort from humans.
So what the hell are we waiting for? Well that’s exactly the reason the Breadfruit Institute was developed in 2003. Through their research and documentation it is their mission to be able to provide plans for diversified plantings in order to have a constant supply of fruit throughout the year. Using a system of shipping young and healthy breadfruit that will grow easily and vigorously through a partnership with another company called Cultivaris the Institute hopes to create a new solution for food security and well being for millions of people through the conservation of this remarkable tree.
After learning so much more about what appears to be such a humble fruit we knew the breadfruit’s story and its Institute had to be told. It’s projects like these that seem to get overlooked so easily for the trending topics of the day and we feel it’s part of our duty to inform you of them here at a A Cook Not Mad. If you would like to learn more about what the Breadfruit Institute is doing check out their website or on your next visit to Maui make sure to visit the Kahanu Garden’s breadfruit orchard and donate generously, we picked up one of their sweet t-shirts as well.
At the very least, search out a breadfruit in your home town and prepare it for your family because sometimes eating is believing. Here is an easy recipe for baked ulu chips you can serve with your favourite salsa or guacamole.
- 1 breadfruit
- Using a mature firm breadfruit boil the fruit whole in a large pot of (Hawaiian) salted water and seasoned with Hawaiian Chili Water (1/2 cup) until just knife tender.
- When cool enough, peel and core the fruit
- Using a mandolin or sharp knife slice into thin pieces.
- Brush or toss the slices gently in olive oil and spread them in one layer on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- You can sprinkle them with whatever herb or spice you desire, like rosemary, black pepper, cumin or curry powder along with more Hawaiian sea salt.
- Bake the chips in a preheated 400 degree oven until they are golden and crisp, let cool and serve.