“Breadfruit? No, dear, I think that’s a small jackfruit you’re seeing. I remember some of the best jackfruit came from my cousin’s friend’s mother-in-law’s house, where we used to climb over the fence to grab one before she noticed…” And so goes a typical conversation about the lowly, neglected breadfruit. Despite suitable growing conditions, most of India is woefully ignorant of breadfruit’s delicious potential.
Breadfruit has a wide native habitat native: “The Fruits of Warm Climates” cites that the range extends from New Guinea to Western Micronesia, and along the Indo-Malayan archipelago. Polynesians were the first to harvest breadfruit, but its cultivation quickly spread to Southeast Asia’s tropics.
During the 1700s, transporting breadfruit seeds out of the Pacific was a Herculean feat: Many ships sunk and several passengers died during the long expeditions. Captain William Bligh’s infamous voyage from Tahiti to Jamaica resulted in a loss of over 1,000 plants. The quest, since dubbed “The Breadfruit Voyage,” entailed transporting seeds from Tahiti to the West Indies. The mission was never complete, as Bligh was met with mutiny when the passengers didn’t want to leave the gorgeous paradise. The captain ultimately succeeded on another quest, and Europe and the Caribbean have breadfruits because of his persistence.
Today, breadfruits thrive in several regions, including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Guam, Hawaii, West Africa, and the northern countries of South America. Hawaii’s National Tropical Botanical Garden estimates that 90 countries grow breadfruit today.
The Pacific islands are the only regions growing breadfruit as a staple.
Availability of Breadfruit in India
Breadfruits could thrive in abundance along India’s warm coastline. However, its present growth is limited to Kerala and the Southwest’s Konkan coast. Keralan cuisine is perhaps the only one in India that features breadfruit. The tree’s difficult set-up may be one reason for its unpopularity—though a single tree can yield 200 fruits per season, fresh seeds require planting in a few weeks, and ripe fruits often attract fungus. Breadfruit’s high perishability also limits growers from shipping and selling the fruit to distant markets.
In India, breadfruit trees flower in March, and the fruiting season lasts from June to July.
Where to Find Breadfruit in India:
In most parts of India, finding a breadfruit is like spotting a mythical ___. If a vendor sells a breadfruit atop his dusty, wagon-like pushcart, grab it. These sporadic fruits tend not to last.
Residents in the breadfruit growing regions and the large metro cities of the South have the best chances of scoring a fruit or two. However, large outlets rarely sell breadfruits due to inadequate consumer demand. Instead, small and mid-sized vendors snatch the fruit at wholesale markets.
Checking for Ripeness in Breadfruit
Unripe breadfruits have a tough green skin and starchy, bitter, firm white flesh. As it ripens, it develops a golden brown exterior and has a yellow, custardy, sweetish pulp. Ripe breadfruits are mildly aromatic and soft to the touch. Another indicator is white stripes of leaking sap running down the globular fruit’s exterior.
Breadfruit’s ideal ripeness depends on the end use. Select a ripe fruit to make desserts, purees, and puddings, and opt for a firm, green fruit to make cooked, savory dishes.
No matter the use, avoid fruits with bruises, cuts, dents and dark brown discoloration.
Taste of Breadfruit
Breadruit’s flavor depends on its ripeness. Fully ripe breadfruit tastes like unceremoniously bland pudding. Though its doughy, bready taste doesn’t appeal to everyone, its culinary application is similar to tofu—not palatable on its own, but has the potential to be delicious with the use of certain ingredients and cooking techniques.
Raw, unripe breadfruit is too starchy to eat as-is, and must be cooked. When baked, boiled or stewed, its profile resembles tarot or potato: starchy, bland, and slightly granular. Cooked, unripe breadfruits must be seasoned to reach their full potential.
Breadfruit seeds are also edible, and can be prepared much the same way as jackfruit seeds: boiled, deep-fried or roasted. When cooked, breadfruit seeds have a lovely nutty, sweet, crunchy and crispy flavor similar to a chestnut’s.
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of breadfruit contains the following values:
4.9g Fiber (20% RDI)
.2g Fat (Neg)
1.1g Protein (2% RDI)
29mg Vitamin C (48% RDI)
.1mg Thiamin (7% RDI)
Riboflavin (2% RDI)
.9mg Niacin (4% RDI)
.1mg Vitamin B6 (5% RDI)
13mcg Folate (3% RDI)
.5mg Pantothenic Acid (5% RDI)
17mg Calcium (2% RDI)
.5mg Iron (3% RDI)
25mg Magnesium (6% RDI)
30mg Phosphorous (3% RDI)
490mg Potassium (14% RDI)
.1mg Copper (4% RDI)
.1mg Manganese (3% RDI)
Put in perspective, one small fruit weighs approximately 400 grams. A medium breadfruit weighs roughly 1.5 kilo, and large fruits can easily weigh up to three or four kilograms.
Health Benefits of Breadfruit
Breadfruits are a much healthier alternative to bread, potato, rice, or meat. Breadfruit is high in carbs and fiber, but low in fat:
--A single serving of breadfruit (220g/1cup) provides 43% of one’s daily fiber needs. This is over twice as much fiber as a comparable serving of potato, and almost 5 times as much as rice.
--Breadfruit provides 106% of the daily vitamin C requirements. This essential nutrient protects the immune system and wards off blood-related problems like hypertension. It also keeps eyes healthy and reduces the risk of cataract formation.
--Breadfruit helps the body maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and prevent weakness caused from hypokalemia… all thanks to its 490mg of potassium per serving. Potatoes, on the other hand, have none of this nutrient.
--Breadfruit contains an impressive 25mg of magnesium per serving, making it a good choice for maintaining brain health, keeping energy levels stable, and for staving off headaches.
--Taiwanese researchers found that breadfruit contains geranyl flavonoids, an anti-inflammatory compound that provides relief for diabetes sufferers.
--According to a study conducted by Thai researchers, breadfruit’s heartwood extracts may help prevent wrinkle formation and reduce the appearance of fine lines.
--Breadfruits have high levels of carotenoids known to fight cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
How to Open/Cut Breadfruit
Rub the knife with oil before cutting any breadfruit. This will prevent its sticky latex from adhering to the blade. Next, cut away the fruit’s stem and turn the breadfruit upside down to drain the latex. If any of the sticky latex sticks to a surface, oil a cloth and wipe it away.
Prepare ripe breadfruit by cutting in half and scooping out the doughy flesh.
Unripe breadfruits require a bit more preparation. The National Tropical Botanical Garden advises the following method:
- Peel the outer skin, a task that should be as manageable as peeling a potato.
- Cut the peeled fruit in half, and then into quarters.
- Use a sharp butcher knife to remove the firm breadfruit core: Slice away the firm, white middle from each wedge.
- Cut the peeled, de-cored wedges into desired sized pieces: breadfruit chips should be fine and thin, while the breadfruit pieces for stew, bakes or salads, should be the size of potato chunks.
Cook breadfruit like a pumpkin or acorn squash: Cut out the core and place the halves upside down in a casserole tray. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour.
Note: India’s breadfruits do not have seeds, but there is a spiky, seeded relative grown in the Philippines known as kamansi.
Keep breadfruit in cool, dry conditions. Unripe fruits take ten days to become soft and golden, and once fully ripe, will keep for an additional ten days. Breadfruit will continue to ripen once picked from the tree. In fact, many sellers pick unripe fruits and then ripen them artificially with polyethylene gas. Jamaicans extend breadfruit’s shelf life with a more unusual technique: they keep spare fruits submerged in water.
Avoid refrigerating or freezing breadfruit, as it cannot handle cold weather and will spoil quickly. Some choose to refrigerate the fruit, but only after wrapping it in a thick, heavy bag—though the wrapping minimizes chilling injury, the skin becomes discolored.
Breadfruit Recipe Ideas
Breadfruit has exceptional versatility, working well in salads, roasts and desserts. As a rule of thumb, unripe breadfruits function as a potato substitute, whereas ripe breadfruits double as a pumpkin or yam puree substitute. No matter the recipe, remove the skin beforehand.
Unripe Breadfruit Recipes:
--Make breadfruit salad by boiling chunks of the fruit until they can be pierced with a fork. Strain, and wait until the pieces to cool. Then toss with a savory, creamy nut-based dressing and mix with apples, grapes, and walnuts.
--Create breadfruit chips by slicing the fruit into thin strips or triangular slices, and then fry in oil.
--Breadfruit fritters are a Karnataka delicacy: quarter the fruit and cut into thick triangular wedges. Marinate in salt, rice oil, chili powder, and turmeric. Fry both sides in a skilled and serve. For a healthier alternative, line the pieces on a lightly greased sheet and bake.
--Use breadfruit as a potato substitute and simmer in stews, chowders and soups. Or, add the chunks to Thai-style coconut soup, Indian mulligatawny soup, hearty American vegetable stews, or add to a crockpot full of vegetarian chili.
--Breadfruit roast curry is a beloved dish in the Sri Lankan city of Jaffna: on a low heat, dry roast curry spices like coriander, cumin, pepper, chillis, onion, nutmeg, cinnamon and curry leaves in a heavy pan until brown. Add coconut milk and chopped breadfruit, leaving to simmer until the fruit is tender. Add coconut cream for thickener, stirring constantly. In a separate pan, heat mustard seeds and curry leaves in oil until the seeds pop. Add this oil to the coconut breadfruit mix, stir, and serve.
Ripe Breadfruit Recipe:
--Make a sweet breadfruit pudding by mixing the pulp with coconut milk, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Bake for an hour in a well-oiled dish at 350 degrees F.
--Remove the fibrous, stringy pieces from the breadfruit and add the doughy pulp to cake batters.
--Make ice cream by mashing the ripe fruit with banana and coconut cream. Store the mix in the freezer for 6 hours. Once frozen, blend thoroughly until the texture is creamy. Drizzle with chocolate sauce if desired.
--Create breadfruit donuts by mashing ripe pulp, shortening and an egg substitute. Separately, sift flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt. Roll a ball of the breadfruit mix in the dry ingredients, and deep fry. Coat the balls in an additional layer of brown sugar for taste.
Fruits: Coconut, banana, jackfruit, durian, lakoocha, custard apple, bullock’s heart, banana
Vegetables: Tomato, bell pepper, onion, green pepper, potato, pumpkin, yam, sweet potato, elephant foot, taro, gourd
Herbs, spices, and oil: Coconut oil, coconut milk and cream, shredded coconut, sugar, macadamia nut, cashew, cinnamon, brown sugar, jaggery, nutmeg, clove, cocoa, raisin, sunflower oil, olive oil, salt, pepper, chili, turmeric, mustard seed, fenugreek, chili, onion powder, garlic, nut gravy, coriander
Random Breadfruit Fact
In Polynesia and Micronesia, tribal groups preserve breadfruit by covering it in leaves and then burying it. In their words, the fruit will stay edible for 20 years.
Botanist Dr. Solander raved, “breadfruit is the most useful vegetable in the world.” When Captain Cook was presented with breadfruit during his voyages, he described it like “the shape of a child’s head… reticulated not much unlike a truffle.”
Hawaiians believe breadfruit first grew from the body of Ku, a war god who sacrificed himself to prevent starvation of his family and neighbors.
British general Charles Gordon anointed breadfruit as the tree of life in his manuscript, “Eden and Its Two Sacramental Trees.”
Irppla, kadapila (Tamil)
Jivi kadgi (Konkani)