The ins and outs of breadfruit

More than 30 years ago, Lelan Nishek started Kauai Nursery & Landscaping. Since then, the one-man operation has grown into a 150-acre property with close to 80 employees, including three of Lelan’s brothers, their families and his daughter, Sandy.

KN&L sells hundreds of tropical plants and trees including sod and grass seed, water lilies, ginger, vanilla orchids, anthuriums, ferns, shrubs, bamboo, fruit trees, fragrant trees and palms. Vegetable and herb starts are grown from KN&L plant seeds as well as University of Hawaii seeds, which are hybrids that are disease resistant and acclimated to Hawaii’s climate.

KN&L sells four breadfruit tree varieties:

Maafala, ulu fiti, piipiia and otea.

Breadfruit

Lelan’s daughter Sandy is a creative and passionate cook who loaned me two books for researching this article. Both are available at www.amazon.com and are published in partnership by Hawaii Homegrown Food Network and the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Poipu. The Breadfruit Production Guide, by Craig Elevitch, Diane Ragone and Ian Coal, outlines how to grow, harvest and handle breadfruit. Hooulu ka Ulu Cookbook is a collection of recipes, tips and techniques.

Ulu is the Hawaiian word for breadfruit and the name of the variety that was brought to Hawaii from the Society Islands. As one of the canoe plants, breadfruit is a cultural symbol with the potential to provide long-term food and economic security as well as agricultural sustainability for the state of Hawaii. One breadfruit tree can produce hundreds of pounds of fruit each year.

Over the past century, breadfruit cultivation has declined but at one time there were large groves on Kauai’s leeward coasts and windward valleys. Demand for fresh breadfruit is increasing and if you walk through the farmers market, you’ll see many boxes full of the big, green fruit. Breadfruit is especially useful for those on gluten-free diets as the flesh can be made into flour and used in breads and baked goods.

Breadfruit can be eaten at all four stages of maturity. Immature fruit is about the size of a baseball, with a taste and texture similar to artichokes, and can be pickled or marinated. Full-size green fruit has an undeveloped “green” flavor and is best for chips. Mature fruit has a creamy texture and rich flavor, which is best for salads, tempura, fries, curries, soups, stew, patties and baked dishes. Firm, mature fruit has white to cream colored flesh. Ripe fruit is very soft, emits a sweet, fruity fragrance and can be used in beverages and energy bars as well as desserts such as cookies, cakes and pies.

Season: Hundreds of individual flowers on a central core (inflorescence) develop into mature fruit. It takes up to 20 weeks from flower to mature fruit. With more than 100 varieties, breadfruit can be found year-round, but peaks in the fall and winter months.

What to look for

Since there are a number of breadfruit varieties, use this as a general guideline when purchasing mature breadfruit. Choose breadfruit with at least two of the following characteristics: smooth olive colored skin, brownish crusting or cracking around individual sections, a few splotches of dried sap and a yellow stem.

Storage

If you can’t use breadfruit within three days, you can store it in the refrigerator for a few days. If the breadfruit is cooked whole and the skin is still on, wrap in tinfoil when cool and store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Breadfruit can be frozen for up to six months.

Preparation

Once cooked, breadfruit can be mashed, shredded, cubed, sliced, diced or pureed and used in many preparations. My favorite way to cook breadfruit is to line a large pot with oil, drop the whole breadfruit in (stem and all) and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about one hour.

I have found that breadfruit tends to have a heavier side, which stays submerged and will leave me with one fully cooked half. To prevent this, I rotate the breadfruit after about a half hour, pierce it with a metal cake tester, and secure the cake tester by sliding a spatula handle through the cake tester’s looped end.

When it’s cooked, a cake tester should easily slide in. Let breadfruit cool to room temperature and wrap in tinfoil and store in the refrigerator until needed. When ready to use, cut about 1/2-inch of the stem end off and stand the breadfruit on that end. A vegetable peeler will easily slip the skin off, although you can leave it on. Cut the breadfruit into four wedges and remove the core. At this point, you can cut it in the appropriate manner for your recipe.

Tip

Mature breadfruit gives the best flavor and texture for most dishes. Flavor in immature fruit is not well-developed and the fruit often exudes copious amounts of sap. Once picked, immature fruit will soften but not ripen.

Health benefits

Breadfruit has a moderate glycemic index (especially when cooked) compared to white rice, potatoes and white bread. It is a nutritious and energy-rich food and 100 grams contains 134 calories as well as 4 grams of protein; 31.9 grams of carbohydrates; 16.8 micrograms of calcium; 34.3 micrograms of magnesium; 43.1 micrograms of phosphorus and 376.7 micrograms of potassium.

The Food and Nutrition Board recommends adults consume 4.7 grams of potassium every day. Potassium is one of the major minerals for health and plays a vital role in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. It is necessary for the conversion of blood sugar into glycogen, helps send oxygen to the brain, and regulates neuromuscular activity. Potassium helps to keep skin healthy, protects against bone loss, and helps prevent kidney stones.

Breadfruit trees can be found at:

Kauai Nursery & Landscaping, 3-1550 Kaumualii Hwy, Lihue. For more information call 245-7747, or visit www.kauainursery.com.

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Marta Lane has been a food writer on Kauai since 2010. After graduating a 12-week organic farming course on the North Shore she became the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture manager. Marta is the author of Tasting Kauai: Restaurants – From Food Trucks to Fine Dining, A Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island. For more information, visit www.TastingKauai.com.

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