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Breadfruit, the Tree of Life for a Hungry Planet

By Diane Ragone, Director of the Breadfruit Institute, National Tropical Botanical Garden

Everyone is looking for the next superfood that will improve health and nutrition and alleviate world hunger. Well it is here and it has been here for a long time. Breadfruit has been grown in Oceania for more than 3,000 years, and on many islands the trees form the heart of complex, multispecies agroforests. These food forests are a model for sustainable food production systems and could help us unlock the food security challenges that many parts of the tropical world are facing.

Why breadfruit? Breadfruit is a long-lived perennial tree and is easy to grow in a wide range of ecological conditions with minimal care. Trees begin bearing in 3-4 years, producing a starchy, carbohydrate fruit equivalent to annual staple field crops such as rice, maize, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. It reduces the amount of labor needed to grow crops that require harvesting and replanting, it reduces top soil loss, and it stores carbon. For Pacific island people this became their tree of life. 

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 4.00.12 PMIn celebration of its 50th anniversary this fall, National Tropical Botanical Garden and its lead partner, the Botany Department of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, are hosting an international symposium in Washington, D.C., entitled Agents of Change — Botanic Gardens in the 21st Century. The one-day event will take place on October 7, 2014 at the Museum of Natural History.  Click for details

 

In the 1970s, the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) recognized the need to conserve breadfruit diversity. I became involved with NTBG in the mid-1980s and traveled to over 50 Pacific Islands collecting hundreds of varieties and documenting traditional practices and knowledge associated with this important crop. Botanic gardens are ideally positioned to do this kind of work because understanding plants and their uses is core to what we do.

We now manage the world’s largest breadfruit repository and thanks to extensive research on this collection it is now possible to grow and distribute breadfruit trees in large numbers to help alleviate hunger. Why is this important? Nearly one billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat. An additional two billion are impacted by “hidden hunger,” the lack of adequate micronutrients. 

Photograph copyright Jim Wiseman
Photograph copyright Jim Wiseman

 

In 2009, with the help of our partner Cultivaris LLC, (www.globalbreadfruit.com), we launched a Global Hunger Initiative with the goal to distribute breadfruit globally. We are truly inspired by the response and today there are 30 countries, including Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Pakistan, that have received more than 40,000 trees. This work is accomplished through collaboration with myriad individuals and grassroots organizations. It is exciting to see how much global interest there is in this heritage crop.

At our  international symposium in Washington, D.C., entitled: “Agents of Change — Botanic Gardens in the 21st Century,” on Tuesday, October 7, 2014, I am delighted to be joined by Danielle Nierenberg, Food Tank; Dr. Eija Pehu, The World Bank; and Dennis Dimick, National Geographic Magazine, on the “Feast or Famine: How we can and will feed 9 Billion People” panel, to discuss strategies, challenges, and opportunities to providing a more food-secure planet.

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Comments

  1. Pamela Baker
    McLoud, Oklahoma, USA
    September 5, 5:34 am

    Would this terr grow in a non tropical area? I have a banana tree in a pot and it’s growing. I’d like to get a start of this if I could

  2. Susannah Slocum
    Haiti
    April 8, 2015, 7:20 pm

    Some groups in Haiti and Jamaica are currently making flour and cereal out of breadfruit. Breadfruit is very perishable but has a long shelf life as a flour so this is a measure that has promise for food security. I am helping a Haitian grassroots organization to start processing breadfruit. You can learn more about the project here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-create-food-security-at-the-haitian-border/x/1895799

  3. Josh Schneider
    San Diego, California
    October 15, 2014, 6:02 pm

    For much more information on where you can purchase traditional varieties of Breadfruit trees; how you can use the fruits in a wide range of foods; and best practices for growing, go to http://www.breadfruit.org and http://www.globalbreadfruit.com
    Note: Breadfruit will only grow in Hawaii and no other US States because of temperature.

  4. Diane Ragone
    Kauai, Hawaii
    September 24, 2014, 9:37 pm

    It is wonderful to read all of the positive and enthusiastic comments from around the world from people who know and enjoy eating breadfruit. This heritage Pacific crop has rich history of cultivation and use in the tropics. To learn more about breadfruit, recipes, nutritional information, and our Global Hunger Initiative visit the Breadfruit Institute’s website at: http://www.breadfruit.org and follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BreadfruitInstitute

  5. Maud Duffus
    September 22, 2014, 1:33 pm

    This plant cannot be reproduced by its fruits, rather there are baby plants that are produced from the root of the tree and these are carefully uprooted and planted individually with constant watering until roots are formed.

  6. Wentworth Lionel Carrega
    Brooklyn, New York
    September 21, 2014, 7:45 am

    As a child in Guyana, South America, the fruit was looked upon with skepticism and relegated to ‘poor food” for the lower economic strata of society yet enjoyed by all sectors. I rediscovered Bread Fruit and its’ nutritional benefits, as a complete food, while visiting Jamaica for the first time five years ago. Not only did I discovered Bread Fruit but another amazing fruit- Ackee- which is also a complete food.
    Bread Fruit, which is found in most fruit stands in Brooklyn, has brought me back to the roots of healthy eating.

  7. val casas
    Meycauayan, Philippines
    September 21, 2014, 6:32 am

    My grandmother used to boil sliced breadfruit in coconut oil, so easy to cook. Then we children dipped these in brown sugar, as afternoon snacks.

  8. Kal Mohamed
    Guyana
    September 19, 2014, 12:35 pm

    My father bought a breadfruit sapling locally ,about 35yrs ago.
    we dug a hole & prepared the soil with manure etc & fenced it
    around for a few years then add dry leaves as compost. This tree is now over 35ft tall & produces hundreds of breadfruit for
    us, neighbours,relatives & friends.

  9. Marilyn A.Cox
    Nassau. Bahamas
    September 18, 2014, 11:12 am

    not widely used by native Bahamians it is used by all the Caribbean immigrants who are spreading the good news in these hard economic times. Breadfruit can feed communities.
    Bring to your attention a Jamaican publication “Breadfruit for Economy” written by Edna Swaby and published in collaboration with the Scientific Research Council, 1979.
    It shows the versatility of the breadfruit.

  10. Luke Ohms
    Cebu, Phillipines
    September 18, 2014, 5:53 am

    There are a number of trees here but sadly, not many people eat it nowadays.I don’t have any idea how to propagate this plant. I dont seem to notice live seeds from its fruit unless those black ones are fertile seeds then it should be easy to propagate them.
    I love the taste of this fruit. normally it is cooked here with sugar and coconut milk but boiling it alone is enough substitute for rice or corn.

  11. TGD
    Barbados
    September 18, 2014, 1:41 am

    Breadfruit if a food tha tis both loved and loathe in Barbados as it was considered a slave food and many Bajans will not eat it… however that is not my problem.. I eat it fried, as cou-cou, breadfruit cheesy, boiled, roast, baked… and specially in souse…yummy

  12. pam
    goa
    September 18, 2014, 12:58 am

    we make chips of these and fry them in semolina and spice, tastes awesome

  13. desdrith
    Colombia
    September 17, 2014, 10:27 am

    Lastima q en Barranquilla no se da este árbol, su fruta pan como lo llaman en San Andres Islas es rico como lo quieras comer. Es muy nutriente y puede reemplazar otros tubérculos. Lo recomiendo.

  14. jean
    indonesia
    September 17, 2014, 3:32 am

    we name it ‘Sukun’, its commonly found in Indonesia. very delicious when fried after soak it with salt and garlic. so yummy..

  15. Gary Abaca
    manila, philippines
    September 16, 2014, 1:59 pm

    Where can i have tree to plant in manila?

  16. Art
    Barbados
    September 16, 2014, 12:10 pm

    Marvellous fruit. Said to be introduced to the Caribbean from the Pacific by Captain Bligh of the Bounty. Can be cooked/used any of the ways you would an Irish potato. Hugely underrated fruit and most probably ignored and avoided because it was considered ‘slave food’ by most locals. I don’t ignore it. Delicious and plentiful.

  17. Jeff
    Sugarland, the Philippines
    September 16, 2014, 11:59 am

    superb fruit… roasted on hot coals or fried with sugar
    as the name says “bread”
    in my province, we have a village named after this fruit, “kulo” and another one for its ‘bread’ cousin; “kamansi”, that we use for cooking with pork or beef or coconut milk.
    big trees too, gives a lot of shade from the tropical sun

  18. Ione deBrum
    Majuro, Marshall Islands
    September 16, 2014, 7:44 am

    In the Marshall Islands breadfruit is commonly preserve underground using the leaves for covering. can stay underground for years provided the leaves changes once a week. currently the new method of preserving is solar dry and turn into flour.

  19. Tui
    Auckland,newzealand
    September 16, 2014, 3:54 am

    I grew up on breadfruit, or mei, it’s great to see that it can help feed other nations, outside of Oceania. I think vegetarians world wide would like it, it’s quite filling to eat.

  20. Allan
    Hayward
    September 16, 2014, 2:13 am

    “Lemai” in Chamoru, (GUAM) delicious bbq’d with fresh caught fish, lobster, squid, crab, served with other Guamanian dishes, a tasty island treat, & we knew it was very resourceful, & sustainable, cs my family always harvests them.

  21. Óscar
    Colombia
    September 15, 2014, 11:14 pm

    Eli, can you tell me the name of that fruit in san Andrés maybe in spanish?

  22. Ines Gonzalez
    Veraguas, Panama
    September 15, 2014, 8:54 pm

    En nuestra casa hemos sembrado el arbol de pan para conservar la tradicion ,es riquisimo como verduras con un sofrito de cebollas .
    El de frutitas chocolates es facil de cultivar ya que cada fruta que se cae se hace un semillero de muchos arbolitos de pan,y el de rebanadas se cultiva por estaca. Que buena noticia la que nos han brindado ojala se expanda a todo el mundo el cultivo de este arbol tan noble.

  23. Sue p
    Hawaii
    September 15, 2014, 7:43 pm

    Another use is that in the old time Hawaiians and other locals used to put their pigpen under the breadfruit tree, and if any fruit fell, and there is a LOT of fruit when the season is happening, the pigs could clean up the mess…and a too-ripe breadfruit is pretty messy. Feeds the people and their pigs. How wonderful. Also, it can be baked like squashes or pumpkins are by cutting in half, hollowing out the core, and putting butter and brown sugar. Yum.

  24. Rita
    Port Coquitlam,BC,Canada
    September 15, 2014, 7:36 pm

    Wish I could grow the tree here

  25. Rita Lalor Rowe
    Port Coquitlam,BC.Canada
    September 15, 2014, 7:00 pm

    Looking for ward to some roast breadfruit,salt fish and pear
    +

  26. eli
    België
    September 15, 2014, 2:31 pm

    I tasted it in San Andres island (Colombia), it grows everywhere there and it is DELICIOUS!!! thanks for the info

  27. Nicole
    Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
    September 15, 2014, 1:07 pm

    The breadfruit plant has been a blessing to the caribbean people for many years. It was brought to the caribbean as a means of feeding the African slaves who were forced to labour on the plantatians and today it is prepared in every corner of society. As a Vincentian, I look forward to delicious meal that contains Roasted breadfruit and Codfish on my vacations at home. St. Vincet has an entire month for the celebration of the breadfruit plant, where recipes are made and dishes are enjoyed by many.

  28. aldrin rey
    sorsogon city,phillipines
    September 15, 2014, 10:34 am

    how to cook i know boil it or slice thin and dry to the sun then fry with sugar then serve

  29. Eldie
    California
    September 15, 2014, 10:02 am

    I love breadfruit. I would like to grow my own tree in California. Where can I get a small tree?

  30. Kenneth Yates
    Austin Texas
    September 15, 2014, 7:39 am

    I think it’s essential to have a food source for a globally increasing population however the stark truth is that there is more than enough food to distribute worldwide providing there was access to it and countries shared with each other

  31. nori fernandez
    California
    September 15, 2014, 5:08 am

    Were can I buy a plant?

  32. roshan shrestha
    Kathmandu, Nepal
    September 15, 2014, 4:06 am

    From can we get this plant for our region?

  33. Dr Zahid
    Pakistan
    September 15, 2014, 3:40 am

    Hello!! I am a civil servant working in Pakistan. It’s very nice to know that a new initiative is being taken to address the hunger worldwide. Breadfruit seems a very good option. Can you please forward some information as where we can get a sapling in Pakistan. Regards.

  34. Pradeep Rego
    mumba, India
    September 15, 2014, 2:38 am

    We have a breadfruit tree in our backyard and I can vouch for its nourishing properties. Not many people are aware of this vegetable. It is a good initative on your part to introduce the breadfruit tree as a alternative food crop.

  35. rofi
    Indonesia
    September 15, 2014, 2:04 am

    that’s SUKUN in our language. the riped breadfruit tasted very sweet like durian’s flesh.

  36. zerak
    iraq
    September 15, 2014, 1:58 am

    vary niec

  37. Tsehaye kidus
    mekelle,ethiopia
    September 15, 2014, 1:22 am

    Its very interesting fruit and its better introducing the breadfruit to my country Ethiopia and if its also possible we can try propagate the fruit using tissue culture!

  38. Clement
    September 15, 2014, 12:36 am

    I remember a book from my childhood called “the coral” island where a group of shipwrecked sailors survived off pigs and breadfruit.

  39. JAMES CHELEMBIL
    India
    September 15, 2014, 12:27 am

    Dear David,

    How the breadfruit can be used as regular food and how this can be preserved for long shelf life. Where can i get more details on this? In India this can be grown easily, But mostly used as an vegitable and cost’s almost half a dollar US per fruit. So in which way is this profitable for mass cultivation… Pls guide…thanks

  40. cherry g. gonzales
    Philippines
    September 14, 2014, 11:59 pm

    We have two fruit bearing trees when I was in my teens and its a very versatile fruit. When you you can use it as an ingredient in stews, cook with coconut milk, and when nearly ripe , can be an ingredient in deserts and manyanyore. Bats love to eat their fragrant fruit when ripe. Useful – a single fruit can feed a family of 8 and nutritious, too.
    .
    E

  41. Maya Trotz
    Tampa, FL
    September 14, 2014, 11:54 pm

    Absolutely love breadfruit. Curious to know if you have a partnering organization in one of the islands where people actually grow it and eat it that is doing similar “repository work.” Also curious about this idea of breadfruit forest/plantation. Is that common? In the Caribbean the trees are in people’s yards with no large scale cultivation.

  42. Abdullah Sarker
    Bangladesh
    September 14, 2014, 11:36 pm

    This good news for global peoples. I am eager to cultivation for my country. How to we can get this tree plants?

  43. NELIO PALMENCO
    Republic of Marshall Islands
    September 14, 2014, 11:09 pm

    Enewetak Atoll is trying it’s best to grow breadfruit locally known as “Ma”. Wish I could come and be part of this gathering. Is this by invitation or open to the general public?

  44. IpseCogita
    September 14, 2014, 11:03 pm

    It’s like NatGeo to not mention the important history related to this article.

  45. IpseCogita
    PNW
    September 14, 2014, 11:01 pm

    History has a lesson to teach about trying to use breadfruit to feed people. It was famously tried with slaves a couple hundred years ago, and it is unlikely to go any better this time around.

  46. Gena
    Texas
    September 14, 2014, 10:48 pm

    I would love to see if one would grow in Texas….where can I get one?

  47. Eddie Ayala Alvarez
    Puerto Rico
    September 14, 2014, 10:30 pm

    Conocemos esta fruta (conocida en Puerto Rico como PANA) desde chicos. Muy parecido a la papa. Distintas maneras de consumo, hervida, con carne frita, postres, frita (tostones), escaveche, gaspacho, pastelon, harinas, ect. Salvo a muchas familias en los años 20, 30, 40, 50….

  48. julio marcano
    September 14, 2014, 10:13 pm

    boil in salt water add olive oil and enjoy

  49. raym castillo
    thailand
    September 14, 2014, 9:35 pm

    Can we plant that in the philippines?how can we acquire for a seed or anything to plant that in our country..thanks

  50. ashoo
    Male' maldives
    September 14, 2014, 9:19 pm

    Bread fruit is great coz u can make variety of food items from it. It can also be preserved quite easily as well.

  51. Resha Lewis
    Jamaica
    September 14, 2014, 8:45 pm

    Look into Ackee as well. Its very nice with breadfruit especially when you add salt things with it YUM.
    Ackee trees are plentiful in Jamaica. A seed just needs to drop and it starts to grow. Because of that, they can be pesky but If it is that those countries need more food, Ackee grows so easily and it feeds lots of hungry people who can’t afford other foods if it grows in their yard space.

  52. christina belmore
    lockport manitoba, canada
    September 14, 2014, 8:36 pm

    This is a wonderful idea to feed the world by planting breadfrujit trees. Will they grow in Canada too? Maybe it`s just in the tropics.

  53. hillary ekemam
    nigeria
    September 14, 2014, 8:25 pm

    Well it looks like what Igbos call Ukwa, but they didn’t show the seeds (in this picture) which is actually the main source of the Ukwa meal. Can someone enlighten us?

  54. s s manral
    Ghaziabad
    September 14, 2014, 7:50 pm

    it is nice to produce in more area to full fill our future food requirement.

  55. Jason
    Moon
    September 14, 2014, 7:47 pm

    HOW IS THE TAISHT?

  56. Marlene Alves
    Deutschland
    September 14, 2014, 6:50 pm

    Adorei a reportagen sobre o fruto Frutapao , gostari de ver uma foto completa da arvore desse fruto .Obrigada .

  57. sonia
    Costa Rica
    September 14, 2014, 6:48 pm

    It is amazing. The importance that this trees had for our needs. Thanks for sharing this information. And good luck with the diffusion of this important information.

  58. Augustine Owino
    September 14, 2014, 5:00 pm

    Thanks for the in depth information pertaining to breadfruit in relation to nutrient and food security.
    As an organization we are we are addressing the aspect of Agriculture and Nutrition in the community rural poor and we would like to promote Pineapple and Passion fruit to address the aspects of food,nutrition and income to the rural poor who have also fallen to the scourge of HIV/AIDS
    The crops take 1 to 2 years to bear fruits.
    How can you assist us make them come out of the poverty.

  59. Sonia Landy Sheridan
    Hanover, NH
    September 14, 2014, 12:26 am

    Beautiful image!

  60. Subodh Bedre
    India
    September 13, 2014, 7:50 am

    Taste & Nutrition facts?

  61. linda henry
    french polynesia..TAHAA..LEEWARD ISLANDS
    September 13, 2014, 12:03 am

    SO HOW COULD BREADFRUIT BE PROCESSED FOR GLOBAL PURPOSES ?

  62. Kam
    US
    September 12, 2014, 10:49 pm

    I’ve not been able to get breadfruit to work here in zone 8 US. I’d appreciate any tips on breadfruit-specific cultivation.
    I travel to Jamaica often and it is from those trees that I attempted my own plantings. Perhaps that is the wrong variety to try? The winters have become harsher of late and most of my tropical/sub-tropical trees die back to the root regardless of lighting and attempts to keep them warm.