The fruit in question is called breadfruit, and few people outside the Pacific Islands know about its existence — or its potential.
Breadfruit is found everywhere throughout the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. It grows on tall trees in sunny, hot, and humid climates.
And since an estimated 80% of the world’s hungry lives in tropical or subtropical regions, scientists think this under-utilised fruit has the potential to solve world hunger, or at least significantly temper it.
The fruit itself is huge. It’s about the size of a football and has a prickly, geometric-patterned skin:
This is what the inside of a breadfruit looks like:
Almost anything you can do with a potato you can do with breadfruit: You can fry it, bake it, mash it into pancakes, or slice it into chips. And when you cook it, breadfruit tastes like — you guessed it — bread.
I recently visited Hawaii and tried the fruit (known to locals as “ulu”) unprepared and in fritter form at a nearby farmer’s market:
In raw form, it wasn’t that great. Breadfruit is bland and flavourless, and it has the texture of an under-cooked potato. The fritters, baked with some added ingredients, tasted much more delicious.
But the true value of breadfruit (thankfully) does not come from its flavour.
Many factors make breadfruit the perfect candidate for tackling world hunger. For starters, the trees are very easy to grow. Breadfruit doesn’t have to be grown from seeds — growers can just hack off a root, cut a notch in it, place it in water, and then pot it. After taking root, the plant essentially takes care of itself. Trees start bearing fruit after three to five years and continue to do so for decades, according to the Breadfruit Institute in Hawaii.
And breadfruits are very nutritious. They’re rich in carbohydrates for energy, low in fats, and each fruit has about 10 bananas’ worth of potassium.
Although the plant is already found on islands throughout the Pacific, organisations like the Breadfruit Institute are working to spread breadfruit trees to other tropical places that need a cheap and easy-to-grow food source. Haiti is a prime target right now, since about three-quarters of the population there is malnourished.
An average tree produces about 200 breadfruits per year. Scientists estimate that about six breadfruit trees can feed a family of five for a whole year (allowing for a few other food types for a balanced diet). Several organisations are working on securing funding to distribute the trees around the world and teach locals how to grow and prepare the fruit.
The vendor who sold me some of his fritters told me the ancient Hawaiian origin story of breadfruit: It’s said that the god named Ku saved his family from starvation by burying himself in the ground and emerging as the first breadfruit tree.
Maybe Ku can save the world from starving, too.
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