Breadfruit is a staple throughout areas of the world, and may be, according to the Breadfruit Summit, a solution to global challenges. Despite this, students at BYU–Hawaii do not know what it is.
Scientific research on breadfruit
According to speakers at the Breadfruit Summit held on Oct. 14 - 17 at the Polynesian Cultural Center, it can change the world for the better.
Dr. Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute, noted she is considered the global mother of the Breadfruit Revolution. She said a life-long exploration of this important crop began when she wrote a term paper on it. She said she “moved to Samoa to live in a breadfruit culture and began doing field studies” and she eventually visited more than 50 islands studying hundreds of varieties of breadfruit.
According to her, she pursued this to conserve traditional varieties as many of them at that time were becoming rare or at risk and knowledge about the fruit was disappearing. This work showed her “the value and importance of breadfruit to Pacific communities for centuries.”
According to Ragone, the National Tropical Botanical Garden, where she has worked for decades, established the world's largest conservation collection of breadfruit, with 150 varieties. The group studied these different breadfruit varieties and were able to understand breadfruit diversity and distribution in the Pacific using DNA fingerprinting.
Dr. Susan Murch, another speaker at the summit from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, helped them extensively by planting year-round “a selection of – yields, insect repelling capacities of the male flowers.”
Her team investigated the nutritional composition of nearly 100 varieties, helping identify the most nutritious varieties. The team also developed micropropagation [tissue culture] methods for breadfruit leading to an arrangement with a private horticultural company to mass propagate ‘elite’ varieties for distribution globally.
Ragone said breadfruit can help the tropics with the problems of hunger alleviation, reforestation and income generation. “Breadfruit benefits people and the planet. It is a long-lived perennial tree crop, so it provides all of the benefits that trees provide -- carbon sequestration, watershed protection, canopies that provide shade and habitat, as well as an abundance of nutritious food.
“Planting breadfruit trees can be a powerful tool in the fight to reduce the impacts of climate change. The fruit is very nutritious: high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Although it does not contain a lot of protein, the protein is complete, containing all of the essential amino acids.”
Nutrition and feeding the hungry
“It is versatile and can be eaten at all stages of development,” said Ragone, “From small immature fruit that resemble artichoke hearts in flavor when cooked and marinated, to mature starchy [product] when it can substitute for potatoes in many recipes.
“As a ‘fruit’ when it is soft, sweet and creamy and can be eaten raw. It lends itself to many preparations as a fresh fruit and home cooks, chefs and entrepreneurs are exploring many value-added products such as flour, chips, dips, desserts, beverages. This is important to help families and farmers not only feed themselves, but generate income to help support them.
“In Hawaii, we import 85-90 percent of our food and too many people are food insecure and need access to nutritious, locally grown food. The Pacific Islands, home to breadfruit for centuries, could benefit by replanting local varieties and engaging communities in growing and eating more breadfruit and locally grown foods.”
Ragone said countries recently hurt by hurricanes can especially use breadfruit in mixing plantings with other crops in “regenerative organic agroforests, typical of the way breadfruit has traditionally been grown in the Pacific and in Africa and Asia.”
According to Ragone, there is nearly one billion starving people on the planet. 80 percent live in the tropics. These areas are perfect for growing the crop. “The challenge, of course, is how to fund, establish, and implement these sorts of community-based projects so that families, farmers, communities, and local entrepreneurs are the driving force and the main beneficiaries.”
Lessons learned from breadfruit
Some students learned about breadfruit when first attending BYU–Hawaii. Samson Wong, an accounting senior from Hong Kong, learned about breadfruit when he was a tour guide at the Polynesian Cultural Center. “I never heard about it until I came here. I have tasted it. It tastes like potato, according to people’s opinions. It’s sort of squishy. It’s like a potato that you’ve cooked for a while and it’s soft. There is not much flavor.”
Wong relayed a story about how the postman would bring them baked breadfruit with salt and pepper. “It was kind of crunchy and tasted good.”
Auahi Aiu, a freshman from Oahu majoring in chemistry and music, reminisced about his grandpa’s cooked breadfruit. “It is amazing. When it’s boiled, I like the soft middle of it. You can make it into breadfruit pancakes too.”
Others learned about breadfruit on other tropical lands and continued the breadfruit love on campus. J Smith, a junior from Virginia triple majoring in political science, business management, and intercultural peacebuilding, said breadfruit is “the most amazing, wonderful, delicious thing. You can fry it, bake it, make it in a toast.”
He said he loves to have “a coconut jelly and peanut butter breadfruit sandwich. Breadfruit replacement for mashed potatoes is really good too.” He said he first had it on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.