Real Food Encyclopedia | Breadfruit
Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), a large green fruit from the perennial breadfruit tree, is part of the same botanical family (Moracaea) as the fig and jackfruit trees. It flourishes in tropical climates, including South and Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, Central America, the Caribbean and parts of Africa. There are hundreds of varieties, some seeded and some seedless. It is a traditional food growing in backyards and beyond, and is resilient and easy to sustain.
While the fruit has fallen out of daily diet rotation, there have been recent efforts in places like Hawai’i to revitalize it as a regularly eaten food since it is very nutritious (both gluten-free and possessing a low glycemic index), culturally significant, locally grown, sustainable and climate-resilient.
Fun facts about breadfruit:
- One breadfruit tree can produce 450 pounds of fruit each growing season.
- The breadfruit tree produces latex, a sticky white substance that is very useful but is also very messy during harvest.
- The leaves of the breadfruit tree have many medicinal uses, from treating thrush to lowering blood pressure.
What to look for when buying breadfruit
Similar to plantains or jackfruit, when breadfruit is underripe it is starchy and best used in savory preparations. As the fruit ripens, it softens and becomes sweeter. Under- or unripe breadfruit must be cooked to enjoy, while the ripe fruit can be eaten raw. So, depending on how you’d like to prepare it, you’ll want to shop for a firm, greenish-yellow fruit with some brown cracking (underripe) or a brownish-yellow one that is soft to the touch and has a slightly sweet smell (ripe).
If you do not have access to fresh breadfruit, you can also find it canned — most of which is grown and processed in Jamaica.
Sustainability of breadfruit
Breadfruit trees are considered very sustainable: climate adaptable, resilient and requiring very little upkeep or maintenance. They are fast-growing, perennial and are usually grown with few to no fertilizers or pesticides.
As the Climate Cuisine Podcast explores, breadfuit’s hardiness means that it’s a staple of both traditional and new agroforestry projects across the Pacific, providing shade for other crops, livestock feed and more without needing too much attention from growers.
In the U.S., breadfruit is in season in Hawai’i from July through February, and in South Florida in late summer.
The breadfruit is considered “ultra tropical,” thriving in the Pacific Islands, Central America and the Caribbean where there are high temperatures and plenty of rainfall. It also grows in South Florida.
The ripe fruit will go bad quickly. To keep fresh breadfruit for a short period of time, place it in a cool, dark place, where it will be good for a few days before it turns overripe. Store the fruit in the refrigerator for a few days to help delay ripening. To store it even longer, submerge it in cold water. If you buy a ripe breadfruit, you should eat it right away.
Before cutting it open, you should soak it in cold water for one to two minutes, then wash it to remove any sap from the skin.
Breadfruit is extremely versatile, with myriad possibilities for preparation. When it’s unripe, it needs to be cooked and can be made into everything from curries (like this Sri Lankan Del Curry) and soups (like this Hawaiian one or this Jamaican breadfruit rundown) to the classic Trinidadian oil down or various cold salads (like this Caribbean one or this simple pickled one). It can also be fried into chips or turned into a version of poi (the traditional Hawaiian dish), made with ‘ulu (the Hawaiin word for breadfruit) instead of taro. The fruit’s seeds can be baked or boiled with the flesh, or removed and cooked separately.
When ripe, it can be eaten raw or be used in pie fillings, made into custard or used for pancakes, among other things.
Fresh breadfruit only lasts a few days, and a single breadfruit is quite large, so preservation is key for making it last. If you parboil it, it can be kept longer in the fridge or freezer.
In the Pacific Islands, it is traditional to ferment the fruit, often by leaving it outdoors. It is then used in a variety of preparations, including mashing it with coconut milk, then wrapping it in banana leaves and then steaming. Dried breadfruit can be cooked later or turned into flour and used like other gluten-free flours, for baking and other recipes.
Breadfruit is high in Vitamin C and A, as well as iron, magnesium and potassium. It has a lot of fiber and some protein as well. It is a low glycemic food compared to foods like rice and potatoes, for which it can be substituted.
Top photo by ehpoint/Adobe Stock.