By Susan Halas
What tropical fruit has more potassium than 10 bananas? Can be baked, steamed, roasted and broiled? Can be ground into a gluten-free flour? Might be the wonder crop to end world hunger?
If you guessed the breadfruit, known locally as ulu, you guessed right. And if you think there might be substantial renewed interest in marketing products made from breadfruit, well welcome to the club.
On April 25, Slow Foods Maui show-cased breadfruit as part of its ongoing Taste Education series held at the Pa’ina Building of UH Maui College. About 20 Mauians were on hand for a presentation by Ian Cole, collection manager and curator of the Breadfruit Institute. The institute is part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s (NTBG) Hana branch called Kahanu Garden.
Cole’s enthusiasm for his subject was infectious as he discussed breadfruit in all its dimensions: how to plant it, grow it, tell when it’s ready to pick, harvest, use and sell it, not to mention some of the new waves its causing in the world of tropical fruits and sustainable agriculture.
Breadfruit, according to Cole, can trace its ancestry back 3,000 years to Papua New Guinea. It grows throughout the world in a myriad of varieties – which, though they may look quite different, are genetically very similar. Breadfruit was once grown on a large scale on the Big Island and Maui during the days of the kingdom, but is not presently in large scale cultivation here.
Maui, it turns out, is an excellent place to find out about the fruit as there is a collection of 281 accessioned trees from 31 Pacific Islands growing at the Breadfruit Institute on just under six acres.
Breadfruit Widely Grown Around the World
Breadfruit, Cole said, will grow in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Ghana, and Zimbabwe. It also thrives throughout the Pacific, and locally, can be grown from sea level in Kihei elevation to about 1695 feet in Keokea.
He said the best variety of tree to plant is “whatever you can find, as breadfruit propagation is extremely limited in commercial propagation.” But that might be about to change as he extolled the exceptional nutritional value of the fruit, and the recent finding that it could be ground into a gluten-free flour.
“We sent it to the lab and confirmed that,” he said, adding that “then we wandered around Whole Foods and looked at all those hippie style gluten-free crackers selling for $7 a pack, and thought ‘that could be us.’” Cole added that samples of the new breadfruit flour have been dispatched to bakers and cracker makers. He is hopeful that they’re on to something good in a value-added product.
In the meantime, he itemized many more standard uses including as animal feed, fish chum, and of course people can eat it too. He showed slides of dishes made from the incredible edible that could be served as everything from chips to crab cakes.
In fact, just about the only drawback to the fruit is it doesn’t keep very well after picking and is easily damaged if it touches the ground. His recommendation was to steam the fruit, peel, chop and then freeze it.
Lots of Ways to Eat It
He urged his audience to visit Hana in October during Aloha Week when breadfruit recipes take center stage in the annual recipe contest, now in its tenth year. Winning entries he said used the fruit in everything from crème brulee to vichyssoise.
After his slide presentation, Cole demonstrated ways to cut and peel the fruit. The audience also sampled a hummus-like dip made from the fruit and tasted it in various stages of ripeness.
Breadfruit Institute in Hana: Click here.
Breadfruit recipes: Click here.
Video about breadfruit in Hawaii, including history and uses (via You Tube): Click here