Cooking with Breadfruit
Breadfruit is considered a canoe crop, which was brought to the islands by original Polynesian voyagers who settled in Hawaii. The tree and its fruit were so valuable, saplings were tucked inside canoes that travelled thousands of miles. In the Pacific, breadfruit is a culturally significant crop that has starred in movies. In the film Mutiny on the Bounty, the ship, Bounty, left England in 1787 on a mission to collect and transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies.
The oval fruit, a little bigger than a child’s football, is now in season. You can find them at the farmers market for as little as $1 each, and in my family, one-quarter is enough to feed two people. Ripe breadfruit has a musky, funky scent and sweet flavor that I do not appreciate. It’s typically baked with butter, sugar and coconut milk. You can tell it’s ripe because the flesh is soft and the skin is a muted olive color. I prefer mature breadfruit, which is hard and bright green. Once it’s cooked, it tastes similar to artichoke hearts and can be eaten in a variety of ways. All stages of maturity have a white latex sap that spills from the stem and seeps into the crannies of the skin. This usually happens if you purchase from backyard farmers, but professional farmers soak the breadfruit right after it’s harvested, removing the sap.
The sap is still in the skin and it will get all over your cooking utensils and vessel, but I have a few easy tricks. I coat the inside of a large stockpot with oil and fill it with water. I put the entire breadfruit in, stem and all, and bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer. It usually takes an hour to cook, and it usually favors one side. It floats, lopsided, and usually one side is more submerged than the other. In order to have a completely cooked breadfruit, I pierce it with a cake tester 30 minutes into the cooking process. I now have leverage so I can rotate the fruit to make sure the undercooked side is submerged. My cake tester has a small loop on one end, so I put the handle of a spatula through it and rest the spatula on the rim of the pot.
Once the breadfruit is cooked, I take it off the heat, keep it in the water, and let it come to room temperature. Cooking extends storage, so if I don’t have time I store the whole thing in the refrigerator. When I’m ready to use it, I pull out the stem and cut a half inch off the top. I set it, cut side down, on a cutting board, and use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Then I quarter it and remove the spongy center that sometimes contains one large seed.
If you’ve never tired breadfruit before, I hope you’ll give it a try. You can use it in place of potatoes for most anything. Try breadfruit gratin, or breadfruit patties. Here are a couple of recipes to get you stated.
Sandy’s Breadfruit Crudité
Several years ago, before my interview with Sandy of Kauai Nursery & Landscaping started, she cooked a baseball-sized breadfruit and served it with garlic dip, much like you would steamed artichoke hearts. She garnished it with chive blossoms, which add a light onion flavor. Serves 4.
- 1 cooked breadfruit, thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic powder and crushed red pepper. Serve dip immediately with sliced breadfruit, or refrigerate dip overnight for full flavor.
Breadfruit Hummus and Falafel
The Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, lists many award-winning recipes on its website. Diane Ragone, PhD and director of the Breadfruit institute, allowed me to share the 2009 Kauai Breadfruit Bounty Cook-off Grand Prize winner created by team Waipa.
- 4 cups immature (green) breadfruit, cooked and cleaned
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 6-8 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp Bragg’s liquid aminos
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tbsp cumin
- 4 tbsp parsley
- 4 tbsp sesame butter (tahini)
- Salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until creamy. Refrigerate until serving. For falafel, roll hummus into bite-sized balls. Dust in flour & deep fry until golden brown. Serve with Greek side dishes, such as: dolmas, tabouli, marinated tomatoes, olives, and pita bread.