In Jamaica breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a staple and a firm favourite for many and popularly regarded as part of the island’s national dish. So, it is easy to assume that breadfruit is endemic to Jamaica, or at least the Caribbean, but it’s not.
The breadfruit plant was introduced to Jamaica in 1793 as a solution to providing cheap food for growing numbers of African slaves who worked on sugar plantations that were pivotal to the British economy. William Bligh, a British explorer was commissioned by the British Royal Society to bring the breadfruit plant from Tahiti along with other foods plants such as coconuts and bananas, to the Caribbean. That was the start of breadfruit becoming part of Jamaica’s culinary identity.
The breadfruit tree is quite hardy and easily adapts to tropical environments. Besides being diverse with over 150 varieties today, a mature breadfruit tree bears fruit throughout the year, on average 200. The tree grows to a height of 9 to 18 meters and begins to bear at approximately 6 years old. A healthy breadfruit tree is productive for 50 years and more. Both its large leaves and wood from its trunk and branches have economic value. Today breadfruit can be found across the tropical zones of all the continents.
Its fruit size ranges from 9 to 45 cm in length, 5 to 50 cm in diameter and weighs up to 6 kg, depending on the variety. In Jamaican the varieties are towards the smaller end of the scale, but one fruit easily feeds several people. The fruit starts off green and hard and gradually changes colour to yellow-brown as it ripens.
Unlike most fruits, breadfruit is not eaten raw. Its thick fleshy interior makes it suitable for cooking in a variety of ways. When green cooked fruit tastes similar to potato and when ripe it becomes sweet, due to its high starch content. The fruit’s bread-like quality is responsible for its name among English speakers.
There are a variety of ways to prepare breadfruit depending on the occasion. For Jamaicans breadfruit roasted or fried goes well with a cooked breakfast, which can sustain you throughout the day. When green breadfruit is boiled in soup to add body and nutrition. Versatile cooks also prepare breadfruit for desserts and side dishes.
The Jamaican food industry is expanding the boundaries of breadfruit by making it commercially available as a flour, canned preserve, chips and even ice-cream. Historically referred to as poor people’s food, breadfruit now has pride of place among the superfoods, because of its high nutritional value. It is a rich source of antioxidants, calcium, carotenoids, copper, dietary fibre, energy, iron, magnesium, niacin, omega 3, omega 6, phosphorus, potassium, protein, thiamine, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Here are a couple recipes on preparing breadfruit Jamaican style:
Healthier Steps Breadfruit Rundown
For more interesting information on breadfruit go to these links:
CBS YouTube Video on Breadfruit
Also visit our gallery for contemporary Jamaican/Caribbean fine art: EJ Art Gallery