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the fruit that sparked a famous mutiny
Artocarpus altilis, is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry family, Moraceae, that grows throughout Southeast Asia, on most Pacific islands, and in the Windward and Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. Its name is derived from the texture and smell of the cooked fruit, which is similar to freshly baked bread.
Breadfruit trees grow to a height of 85 feet. The branches bear glossy, deeply lobed, dark-green leaves over one foot long. The trees are monoecious, meaning male and female flowers grow on the same tree. The male flowers, which emerge first, are set on a drooping, cylindrical or club-shaped spike c5 to 12 inches long and 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick, yellowish at first and becoming brown. Pollen is shed 10 to 15 days after the emergence of the male flowers for a period of about four days. The female flowers are massed in a somewhat rounded or elliptic, green, prickly head, 2-1/2 inches long and 1-1/2 inches across, and it is this head that develops into the fruit. No pollination is required for a fruit to form.
The fruit of the breadfruit can be oblong, cylindrical, ovoid, rounded, or pear-shaped, and from 3-1/2 to 18 inches in length and 2 to 15 inches in diameter, depending on variety. The thin rind is patterned with irregular, 4- to 6-sided faces, in some "smooth" fruits level with the surface, in others conical; in some, there may rise from the center of each face a sharp, black point, or a green, pliable spine up to 1/8 inch long or longer. Some fruits may have a harsh, sandpaper-like rind. Generally the rind is green at first, turning yellowish-green, yellow or yellow-brown when ripe, though one variety is lavender and another is pinkish to orange-brown. Fruits are typically mature and ready to harvest, cook, and eat in 15-19 weeks.
Breadfruit is one of the highest-yielding food plants, with a single tree producing up to 200 or more fruits per season. Productivity varies between wet and dry areas.
Breadfruit is a staple food in many tropical regions. Breadfruit are very rich in starch, and before being eaten, they are roasted, baked, fried or boiled. When cooked, the taste of moderately ripe breadfruit is described as bland at best, but very ripe breadfruit becomes sweet, as the starch converts to sugar. Because breadfruit trees usually produce large crops at certain times of the year, preservation of the harvested fruit is an issue. One traditional preservation technique is to bury peeled and washed fruits in a leaf-lined pit where they ferment over several weeks and produce a sour, sticky paste. Breadfruit can also be made into a flour. Breadfruit can be eaten once cooked, or can be further processed into a variety of other foods. A common product is a mixture of cooked or fermented breadfruit mash mixed with coconut milk and baked in banana leaves. Whole fruits can be cooked in an open fire, then cored and filled with other foods, such as coconut milk, sugar and butter, cooked meats, or other fruits. The filled fruit can be further cooked so the flavor of the filling permeates the flesh of the breadfruit.
Breadfruit is an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. Breadfruit seeds, which can be boiled, roasted, or ground into meal, are a good source of potassium, iron, calcium, and other minerals, as well as protein.
Because it is lightweight and termite-resistant, Pacific Islanders have traditionally used the wood from breadfruit trees for building canoes and shelters. The inner bark can be made into a type of cloth, and all parts of the tree yield a sticky latex that is used as an adhesive.
Breadfruit has been an important staple crop in Oceania for more than 3,000 years. It is believed to have originated in New Guinea and the Indo-Malay region and was spread throughout the Pacific by voyaging islanders. Europeans discovered breadfruit in the 1500's and were amazed and delighted by a tree that produced prolific, starchy fruits that, when roasted, resembled freshly baked bread.
Sir Joseph Banks saw the value of breadfruit as a highly productive food in 1769, while stationed in Tahiti as part of the Endeavour expedition commanded by Captain James Cook. The late-18th-century quest for cheap, high-energy food sources for British slaves prompted colonial administrators and plantation owners to call for the introduction of this plant to the Caribbean. In 1787 Britain's Royal Society dispatched Captain William Bligh to collect breadfruit trees in Tahiti. The HMS Bounty remained in Tahiti for five months, during which over 1,000 plants were collected, potted and transferred to the ship. However, within a month of leaving, many of the crew mutinied, expelling Captain Bligh and supporters in a long-boat, and returned to Tahiti. Bligh survived the ordeal, sailing with 18 loyal crew to Timor, reaching there in late 1789. In 1791, Bligh commanded a second expedition with the Providence and the Assistant, which collected live breadfruit plants in Tahiti and transported them to St. Helena, in the Atlantic, and St. Vincent and Jamaica in the West Indies. The introduction was not entirely successful however, as the slaves refused to eat breadfruit.
Thank you to the National Tropical Botanical Garden and Jim Wiseman for allowing me to use the breadfruit flowers pictures.
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This page was last updated on 10/30/2017.