It’s hard to miss the majestic breadfruit tree. Instantly distinguishable by its 40-foot to 60-foot height and bursting with large leathery leaves, the tree produces fruit up to 8 inches singularly and in clusters. The heavy, hanging fruit changes from green to brownish yellow as it ripens from May until September.
The trees are commonly seen throughout the Caribbean, but their familiarity hides an interesting history. Originating in Pacific islands, breadfruit was noted for the high energy levels it produced, and plantation owners in the Caribbean called for it to be introduced in this region in the 18th century.
Capt. William Bligh of the HMS Bounty was chosen to complete this task, and began collecting breadfruit and other trees of interest, for transport. The historic “Mutiny on the Bounty” soon delayed this expedition as the crew took the ship containing the coveted breadfruit, which were duly destroyed, and left Bligh and his loyal supporters adrift in a small boat. Bligh’s relationship with the breadfruit did not end there, however, as he set out again – his second expedition, on the less troublesome HMS Providence was successful in transplanting breadfruit to the Caribbean. His grave in London is even adorned with a breadfruit sculpture.
Per 100g, boiled breadfruit contains 119 kcal, 1.6g protein, 0.4g fat and 29g carbohydrate. It is a high carbohydrate food and a good source of antioxidants, calcium, iron, magnesium, omega 3 and 6, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C. Its high dietary fiber content can help as a laxative and to lower cholesterol. The fruit has been touted as a useful food to combat hunger, malnutrition and poverty in undeveloped countries due to its high yield, nutritional qualities and wide range of uses.
Breadfruit is used in different medicinal ways throughout the world. In the West Indies, the leaf is brewed to make tea to treat high blood pressure and relieve asthma. In its original Pacific home, the sticky white latex is used to treat sprains, diarrhea, stomach aches and dysentery. Leaves are used to treat skin problems and fungal diseases. In nonmedicinal uses, the fruit can be used as animal feed or turned into gluten-free flour, while the bark and wood can be used for construction or for artwork and clothing. The male flower, when burned, can be used as an insect repellent.
The seeded variety of the breadfruit is the breadnut, containing chestnut-like seeds. It is distinguishable from the breadfruit by its smaller size and spiny exterior. Breadnut is widely used in soups and stews; its high protein, low-fat seeds are a great source of minerals.
How to eat
Traditionally cooked on a caboose or in a fire hole, breadfruit can be used at different stages of maturity in different ways: baked, boiled, candied, fried, pickled, roasted and steamed or used to make crackers, flour, starch, porridge and cakes. An often seen use is in breadfruit salad, with bacon, eggs and a creamy coating. Breadfruit chips can be a crunchy accompaniment to many dishes. Chef Dylan Benoit of Craft Food & Beverage Group, has shared a recipe for wahoo and blood orange ceviche with breadfruit chips.
Wahoo and blood orange ceviche with breadfruit chips
- 400g fresh wahoo, free of any skin, bone or blood line
- 120g diced papaya
- 100g blood orange juice
- 80g lime juice
- 20g finely diced red onion
- 8g finely diced scotch bonnet
- 4g finely diced ginger
- 4g sugar
- 4g sea salt
- 15g sliced scallion
- cilantro for garnish
- 150g breadfruit (approximately 12 slices)
Preheat fryer or pot of oil to 350F. Peel the outer skin off the breadfruit with a knife or peeler to reveal the white flesh beneath. Slice the breadfruit, preferably on a slicer, the same thickness as a potato chip. Cut each slice of breadfruit into 4 quarters. Set raw breadfruit aside.
Slice the wahoo into 1cm thick slices. Stack them and cut them in half so they are approximately 1-inch by 1-inch. In a small bowl mix the wahoo with the papaya, blood orange juice, lime juice, red onion, scotch bonnet, ginger, salt and sugar. Set aside.
Check temperature of fryer. Once at 350F, drop the breadfruit chips in, making sure they don’t stick together. Leave in until translucent, or they cease to bubble. Remove chips and drain on paper towel. Season immediately with sea salt.
Add scallion to wahoo and mix well. Adjust seasoning, adding more scotch bonnet if you prefer it a bit spicier. Spoon ceviche mixture into a small mason jar, garnish with picked cilantro leaves and serve with the breadfruit chips on the side.