All about breadfruit
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Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a flowering tree belonging to the mulberry and jackfruit family. It’s believed that the tree is a domesticated descendant of Artocarpus camansi which originated in New Guinea, the Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) and the Philippines. The fruit was spread to Oceania during the Austronesian expansion, and then later spread to tropical regions of the world during the Colonial Era. Today, the tree is grown throughout South and Southeast Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, Central America and Africa.
Breadfruit is one of the highest yielding food plants in the world. A single tree can produce up to 200 fruits per year, although yield varies according to wet or dry areas. The fruit has a round to oval shape, around 6-8 inches long and 8 inches across. The thin, green skin gradually ripens into a pale green colour which is mottled with polygon shaped bumps. The tree itself can grow up to 25 metres and has large, thick leaves.
Breadfruit gets its name from the texture of the fruit when it’s cooked. It has a similar taste to freshly baked bread, and can also have a slight potato-like flavour. It’s mostly used as a vegetable, although the fruit also has plenty of other interesting uses.
Breadfruit is starchy, just like a potato. It can be baked, steamed, fried, boiled and used in dishes like soups, stews, curries, chowders and dips. You can prepare breadfruit however you would prepare a potato – made into chips, mashed or in a salad.
In Hawaii, popular breadfruit dishes include breadfruit salad, curry, cooked in coconut cream, chips, nachos and with corned beef. When the fruit is still young, it’s usually sliced thinly and boiled until tender. It’s then eaten with dips or marinated and pickled, with the flavour and texture resembling artichoke heart. When the fruit ripens, it becomes much softer and creamier, and is used in baked goods, beverages and desserts like flan. Various traditional methods of cooking breadfruit in Hawaii include roasting it on a fire until the skin is blackened and the flesh is tender, baking it in an underground oven, and pounding the fruit until it reaches a doughy consistency.
In India, breadfruit is cooked into various curries and dishes. Kadachakka poduthival thoran is a stir fried breadfruit dish made with crushed coconut and spices like green chillies, mustard seeds, asafoetida, turmeric and curry leaves. Breadfruit is also made into a side or a snack, such a breadfruit bhaji, spiced with ingredients like turmeric, coriander, mustard seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida and black beans.
In Caribbean cooking, breadfruit is commonly made into fried puffs with herbs and spices like nutmeg, chives, parsley, Scotch Bonnet peppers and black pepper. In Jamaica, breadfruit is made into a curry with thyme, garlic, bell peppers, allspice, Scotch Bonnet peppers, coconut milk and Creole seasoning. Breadfruit is also commonly eaten as a starchy side with dishes such as this Creole chicken.
Breadfruit can be processed into a gluten-free flour, which is a suitable option for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. It’s a more economical and nutritious alternative to wheat flour, as the process of turning the fruit into flour preserves its nutritional value. Scientists are currently investigating the use of breadfruit flour in products like nutrition bars and beverages.
The seeds of the breadfruit plant (also called breadnuts) have also been studied for their nutritional and economic benefits. The seeds are sometimes used as a substitute for yam as they’re cheap, highly nutritious and are a low-fat source of protein.
The Polynesian people once transported root cuttings of the breadfruit plant as it was so valuable. As well as being an important source of food, they used the lightweight, termite resistant wood for building canoes and houses. The sticky latex produced by the tree was used as a sealant for canoe caulking, and the wood pulp was produced into paper.
Breadfruit has been found to be more effective than DEET, the most active ingredient in insect repellents. People living in the Pacific regions use a traditional method of burning sun-dried clusters of flowers. The male breadfruit flower contains compounds which act as insect repellents, making it a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to DEET.
Breadfruit contains numerous health benefits. One cup of raw breadfruit (220g) contains:
Breadfruit also contains a number of micronutrients and minerals. A single serving of breadfruit contains:
Antioxidants are compounds which protect your body from free radicals. High levels of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which lead to chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Breadfruit contains a load of antioxidants, phenols and vitamin C. Studies have shown that people with a diet rich in vitamin C have a decreased rate of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Breadfruit also contains phytochemicals which protect the heart against atherosclerosis.
Breadfruit contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which contribute to healthy skin. They regulate the skin’s oil production, nourish hair follicles, balance out hydration, reduce breakouts and minimise signs of ageing. They also have a soothing effect on skin diseases like dermatitis, and soften rough, dry skin. The high vitamin C content in breadfruit also helps to build collagen, a protein and building block for hair, skin, bones and muscle.
Breadfruit contains about 10.8 grams of fibre per cup. Fibre is important for digestion, and helps to prevent constipation. If you’re looking to lose weight, the high fibre content of breadfruit can help to prevent cravings and keep you feeling full for longer. Overall, a diet that’s high in fibre is associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure and other heart diseases.