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|Breadfruit at Tortuguero, Costa Rica|
|Breadfruit at Tortuguero, Costa Rica|
Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry family, Moraceae, growing throughout Southeast Asia, South India and most Pacific Ocean islands. It is also grown in the Leeward Islands and Windward Islands of the Caribbean and in Africa. Its name is derived from the texture of the cooked moderately ripe fruit, which has a potato-like flavor, similar to freshly baked bread.
Ancestors of the Polynesians found the trees growing in the northwest New Guinea area around 3,500 years ago. They gave up the rice cultivation they had brought with them from Taiwan, and raised breadfruit wherever they went in the Pacific (except Easter Island and New Zealand, which are too cold). Their ancient eastern Indonesian cousins spread the plant west and north through insular and coastal Southeast Asia. It has, in historical times, also been widely planted in tropical regions elsewhere.
The trees are monoecious, with male and female flowers growing on the same tree. The male flowers emerge first, followed shortly afterward by the female flowers, which grow into capitula, which are capable of pollination just three days later. The compound, false fruit develops from the swollen perianth, and originates from 1,500-2,000 flowers. These are visible on the skin of the fruit as hexagon-like disks.
Breadfruit is one of the highest-yielding food plants, with a single tree producing up to 200 or more grapefruit-sized fruits per season. In the South Pacific, the trees yield 50 to 150 fruits per year. In southern India, normal production is 150 to 200 fruits annually. Productivity varies between wet and dry areas. In the Caribbean, a conservative estimate is 25 fruits per tree. Studies in Barbados indicate a reasonable potential of 6.7 to 13.4 tons per acre (16-32 tons/ha). The ovoid fruit has a rough surface, and each fruit is divided into many achenes, each achene surrounded by a fleshy perianth and growing on a fleshy receptacle. Most selectively bred cultivars have seedless fruit.
Breadfruit, an equatorial lowland species, grows best below elevations of 650 metres (2,130 ft), but is found at elevations of 1,550 metres (5,090 ft). Its preferred rainfall is 1,500–3,000 millimetres (59–118 in) per year. Preferred soils are neutral to alkaline (pH of 6.1-7.4) and either sand, sandy loam, loam or sandy clay loam. Breadfruit is able to grow in coral sands and saline soils.
Breadfruit is a staple food in many tropical regions. The trees were propagated far outside their native range by Polynesian voyagers who transported root cuttings and air-layered plants over long ocean distances. Breadfruit are very rich in starch, and before being eaten, they are roasted, baked, fried or boiled. When cooked, the taste of moderately ripe breadfruit is described as potato-like, or similar to freshly baked bread. Very ripe breadfruit becomes sweet, as the starch converts to sugar.
Because breadfruit trees usually produce large crops at certain times of the year, preservation of the harvested fruit is an issue. One traditional preservation technique is to bury peeled and washed fruits in a leaf-lined pit where they ferment over several weeks and produce a sour, sticky paste. So stored, the product may last a year or more, and some pits are reported to have produced edible contents more than 20 years later. Fermented breadfruit mash goes by many names such as mahr, ma, masi, furo, and bwiru, among others.
Most breadfruit varieties also produce a small number of fruits throughout the year, so fresh breadfruit is always available, but somewhat rare when not in season.
Breadfruit can be eaten once cooked, or can be further processed into a variety of other foods. A common product is a mixture of cooked or fermented breadfruit mash mixed with coconut milk and baked in banana leaves. Whole fruits can be cooked in an open fire, then cored and filled with other foods, such as coconut milk, sugar and butter, cooked meats, or other fruits. The filled fruit can be further cooked so the flavor of the filling permeates the flesh of the breadfruit.
The Hawaiian staple food called poi, made of mashed taro root, is easily substituted for, or augmented with, mashed breadfruit. The resulting "breadfruit poi" is called poi ʻulu. In Puerto Rico, breadfruit is called panapen or pana, for short and in some in-land regions it's also called mapén. Pana is often served boiled with a mixture of sauteed bacalao (salted cod fish), olive oil and onions. It is also served as tostones or mofongo. In the Dominican Republic, it is known by the name buen pan or "good bread". Breadfruit is also found in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it is called sukun. In the South Indian state of Kerala and coastal Karnataka, especially on the sides of Mangalore, where it is widely grown and cooked, it is known as kada chakka or seema chakka and deegujje, respectively. In Belize, the Mayan people call it masapan.
Breadfruit was widely and diversely used among Pacific Islanders. Its lightweight wood (specific gravity of 0.27) is resistant to termites and shipworms, so is used as timber for structures and outrigger canoes. Its wood pulp can also be used to make paper, called breadfruit tapa. It is also used in traditional medicine to treat illnesses that range from sore eyes to sciatica. Native Hawaiians used its sticky latex to trap birds, whose feathers were made into cloaks.
In a 2012 research study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a division of the USDA, and collaborators at the University of British Columbia in Okanagan, Canada, "identified three breadfruit compounds — capric, undecanoic and lauric acids — that act as insect repellents." These saturated fatty acids were "found to be significantly more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET."
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||431 kJ (103 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||4.9 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.|
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Sir Joseph Banks and others saw the value of breadfruit as a highly productive food in 1769, when stationed in Tahiti as part of the Endeavour expedition commanded by Captain James Cook. The late-18th-century quest for cheap, high-energy food sources for British slaves prompted colonial administrators and plantation owners to call for the introduction of this plant to the Caribbean. As President of The Royal Society, Banks provided a cash bounty and gold medal for success in this endeavor, and successfully lobbied his friends in government and the Admiralty for a British Naval expedition. In 1787, William Bligh was appointed Captain of the HMS Bounty, and was instructed to proceed to the South Pacific for this task. Banks appointed a gardener for the expedition and gave detailed instructions on how the plants were to be maintained. The Bounty remained in Tahiti for five idyllic months, during which over 1000 plants were collected, potted and transferred to the ship. However, within a month of leaving, many of the crew mutinied, expelling Captain Bligh and supporters in a long-boat, and returned to Tahiti. Bligh survived the ordeal, sailing with 18 loyal crew the 6710 km to Timor, reaching there in late 1789. In 1791, Bligh commanded a second expedition with the Providence and the Assistant, which collected live breadfruit plants in Tahiti and transported these to St Helena, in the Atlantic, and St. Vincent and Jamaica in the West Indies. Although Bligh won the Royal Society medal for his efforts, the introduction was not entirely successful, as the slaves refused to eat breadfruit. However, breadfruit was accepted into the cuisine of Puerto Rico.
According to an etiological Hawaiian myth, the breadfruit originated from the sacrifice of the war god Kū. After deciding to live secretly among mortals as a farmer, Kū married and had children. He and his family lived happily until a famine seized their island. When he could no longer bear to watch his children suffer, Kū told his wife that he could deliver them from starvation, but to do so he would have to leave them. Reluctantly she agreed, and at her word, Kū descended into the ground right where he had stood until only the top of his head was visible. His family waited around the spot he had last been, day and night, watering it with their tears until suddenly, a small green shoot appeared where Kū had stood. Quickly, the shoot grew into a tall and leafy tree that was laden with heavy breadfruits that Kū's family and neighbors gratefully ate, joyfully saved from starvation.
Though they are widely distributed throughout the Pacific, many breadfruit hybrids and cultivars are seedless or otherwise biologically incapable of naturally dispersing long distances. Therefore, their distribution in the Pacific was clearly enabled by humans, specifically prehistoric groups who colonized the Pacific Islands. To investigate the patterns of human migration throughout the Pacific, scientists have used molecular dating of breadfruit hybrids and cultivars in concert with anthropological data. Results support the west-to-east migration hypothesis, in which the Lapita people are thought to have traveled from Melanesia to numerous Polynesian islands.
The world's largest collection of breadfruit varieties has been established by botanist Diane Ragone, from over 20 years' travel to 50 Pacific islands, on a 10-acre (40,000 m2) plot outside of Hana, Hawaii, on the isolated east coast of Maui.
The wood of the breadfruit tree was one of the most valuable timbers in the construction of traditional houses in Samoan architecture.
There are many ways to cook breadfruit. In countries such as Sri Lanka, it is either cooked as a curry using coconut milk and spices (which becomes a side dish) or consumed after boiling. Boiled breadfruit is a famous main meal and is often consumed with scraped coconut, or "sambal" made out of coconut and chilies. Fritters of breadfruit are also a local delicacy of coastal Karnataka.
In Seychelles, it was traditionally eaten as a substitute for rice, as an accompaniment to the mains. It would either be consumed boiled (friyapen bwi) or grilled (friyapen griye), where it would be put whole in the wood fire used for cooking the main meal and then taken out when ready. It is also eaten as a dessert, called ladob friyapen, where it is boiled in coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
It is often said in Seychelles, that travelers who visit Seychelles will always come back if they eat breadfruit cooked in Seychelles.
In Puerto Rico, it is traditionally eaten boiled with bacalao (salted codfish). It is also used to make rellenos de pana (mashed breadfruit filled with seasoned meat), mofongo, tostones de pana (double fried breadfruit), and even lasagna de pana (cooked mashed breadfruit layered with meat and topped with cheese). There is also a popular dessert made with sweet ripe breadfruit: flan de pana (breadfruit custard).
Both ripe and unripe fruits have culinary uses, but unripe breadfruit is consumed cooked.
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