The History and Nutrition of Breadfruit

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Breadfruit is a large starchy fruit that resembles bread when raw. It originated in the South Pacific but was transported and propagated in Jamaica, intended as food for slave workers. The highly nutritious breadfruit is probably best known for its part i

Captain James Cook was undoubtedly one of the first Europeans to sample the culinary delights of cooked breadfruit. He later remarked that the breadfruit was, 'hardly distinguishable from an excellent batter pudding'. Breadfruit was a staple food of Polynesia and was also naturalized in Malaysia and Indonesia, by way of Javanese traders.

The 18th century was the age of botanizing as colonial superpowers traveled to the far reaches of the earth in order to swell their encyclopedic plant collections. Plantation owners in the Caribbean had heard the news about the highly nutritious and calorific fruit that botanists had called breadfruit, because of its similarity to bread. Although when cooked its taste and texture is likened to mashed potatoes. They demanded breadfruit and other tropical fruits as a much needed food source for slave workers.

The botanist Sir Joseph Banks at Kew Gardens was given a commission to transport the breadfruit and other tropical plants to the West Indies for propagating. Eventually the breadfruit trees, when fully grown, would produce 300 to 700 hundred breadfruit yearly, weighing 2-3 kilograms each.

Given the task of sailing to Tahiti, in 1789, to retrieve the precious breadfruit plants, was one Lieutenant William Bligh and his crew, including master’s mate Fletcher Christian, aboard HMS Bounty. What happened next is common knowledge, surfice to say that Jamaican colonists didn’t see any breadfruit plants before the end of the decade. Lt. Bligh and his loyalists did, of course, survive their mutinous ordeal. After spending 48 days in a small boat and covering over 3,000 miles, they arrived in Timor and eventually retuned to England.

Lt. Bligh was promoted to captain and given a commission to return to Tahiti and complete his mission. Breadfruit had been the bain of Bligh’s existence for over five years, but finally in early 1793, Capt Bligh, aboard HMS Providence, delivered the first of 678 breadfruit plants to the island of St. Vincent before proceeding to Bath Botanical Gardens, Jamaica, his ultimate destination. In total, HMS Providence cargo included over 30 species of tropical plants never before seen in the Americas. The exotic plants were used to produce everything from food to clothing dye and perfume.

Image credit, wikipedia.org.

Breadfruit and Nutrition: Similarly to its close relative the jackfruit, breadfruit is high in potassium, a mineral that aids the metabolism and maintains electrolyte balance. Breadfruit is also high in vitamin C as well as vitamin B3 or niacin, which helps lower LDL or bad cholesterol. The seeds are more nutritious than the flesh and contain more calories. Breadfruit flesh has about 98 calories per 100 grams serving. Breadfruit is high in complex carbohydrate, about 24 grams per 100 gram serving, for the flesh and 75 grams for the seeds.

In South East Asia breadfruit is often used to flavor and thicken curry or ground into flour for baked goods. Polynesians developed techniques for preserving breadfruit by wrapping the breadfruit in banana leaves. The breadfruits packets are buried until they dry and ferment, after which they are cooked, usually with coconut cream.

Breadfruit is available in seeded and non seeded varieties. The seeds, known as breadnut, are often toasted or sometimes cooked with sugar. They taste similar to roasted chestnuts.

Primary image from flickr.com.

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Marlene Bertrand
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