Despite a sour mango crop this year, fickle Mother Nature has produced a bumper breadfruit crop – mostly every tree on Cayman is “loaded” with them.
Originating in the South Pacific, breadfruit is said to have first arrived in the Caribbean aboard Captain William Bligh’s English vessel Bounty. He brought the fruit from Tahiti to the Caribbean as cheap food for the slave labor used on plantations throughout the Caribbean.
A traditional staple in Caymanian dishes, breadfruit’s taste is a cross between potato and sweet potato. It accompanies meat and fish dishes in Cayman when in season – it is also eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack.
At Da Fish Shack on George Town’s waterfront, visitors are giving breadfruit dishes the thumbs up in Cayman.
“Try the fried breadfruit; it’s better than French fries,” writes Pamela D from Gorham, Maine on the restaurant’s TripAdvisor.com review page.
“The breadfruit pudding topped with vanilla ice cream and a caramel sauce is the perfect ending to our meal,” states another reviewer.
“People definitely want to try it,” said Nikolett Mihok, a server at Da Fish Shack. “I always recommend it … it’s a little bit sweet but not too much.”
She said people never complain about the breadfruit fries or salad.
New approaches to how it is used and consumed are being explored.
Breadfruit can be eaten at almost any stage – ripe or green, but never raw.
When it is green, breadfruit looks and tastes like steamed green papaya, and can be eaten as a vegetable. When it is starchy and mature, it looks and tastes something like a potato. When the breadfruit is ripe, it is soft. The inside has a yellow- or white-colored flesh that resembles bread. When it is ripe, it can be mixed with sugar and made into a breadfruit cake dessert.
It can be steamed, baked, boiled, fried, roasted and juiced, once its outer skin is peeled.
One favorite Cayman recipe is steam fish and breadfruit.
Any Caymanian will tell you, breadfruit cooked in a pot of fish rundown or eaten with turtle stew is delicious.
Even entertainer and songwriter Barefoot Man – George Nowak – has a ballad called “Black as a Ching-Ching,” where he compares its likeness to the sweetness of a girl: “fit like a breadfruit, oh but she sweet.”
Like mangoes, breadfruit could become a new super-food. Breadfruit is high in antioxidants and rich in amino acids. It is also a heart-healthy food. The leaves and roots are taken by mouth as an “old wives” remedy to fight arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, fever, gout, high blood pressure, liver disease and toothaches.
Breadfruit was also a weapon in Cayman’s historic “district wars.” Cayman legend says the men used the hard fruits to pelt unwanted men from other districts who tried to steal their women.
A decent-sized breadfruit can be large and weigh more than 10 lbs – and leave a serious welt when thrown at a forehead. Typically the fruit weighs between 2 and 5 lbs.
Usually, the fruit grows in clusters of three or four and are often accompanied by a banana-shaped, yellow-green pod. An excellent quality breadfruit will be large, hard and heavy for its size.
The leaves have a hairy vein on the underside and can sometimes cause itching when it comes in contact with the skin. The stem’s milk should also be avoided.
Picking breadfruit by hand or pruning pole is recommended. Avoid the breadfruit falling to the ground and bruising, because this can cause softening.
For the unlucky few who do not have a tree in their backyards, breadfruit can usually be found in local markets. They cost between $1.50 and $3.