Since moving to Honolulu a couple of months ago, I have been tipping my toes into Hawaiian culture. This week I attended a presentation at the local library about ‘ulu aka breadfruit, a neglected treasure of the South Pacific.
‘Ulu was once the staple of the islands. When Englishmen set foot on Maui in 1793 an eighteen mile grove existed that produced 70 million pounds of breadfruit a year. By 1850 much of it was gone. A major highway now exists along that path. About a hundred old trees still exist, hiding in plain site a resource that could feed millions of people in the coming generations.
A beautiful legend called the Gift of Ku tells of a time of drought and famine on the islands. Ku and his wife had many children, growing weaker and more gaunt as each day slipped by without sufficient food. Ku knew of a way to feed his family, but it meant sacrificing his life. Ku and his wife had a very sad parting as she gave him permission to end his life to save his children. Ku stood tall and then was sucked into the earth. Soon, a new kind of tree sprouted in his place–the ‘Ulu. Read the full story here.
‘Ulu fed islanders for centuries until colonialism and Westernization forced plantation farming over forest agriculture to fuel a money-driven colonial economy. Younger generations learned to prefer white rice and spam over the old “starvation” and “slave food” hanging on the ‘ulu trees.
All was not lost. Keepers of old traditions and knowledge remained and kept stands of trees alive throughout the Pacific. Now, scientists and agriculturists are joining forces with tribal and island leaders to revive the bountiful breadfruit for the modern world.
The Breadfruit Institute has been formed by the National Botanical Tropical Garden to nurture a new ‘ulu agricultural system and educate the world about the benefits of ‘ulu.
From Nutrition and You:
Health benefits of breadfruit
- As in line with other tropical fruits, breadfruit too holds lots of calories. 100 g fresh fruit provides 102 calories. The major fraction of this comes from the carbohydrates. Ripe fruits are sweeter since their starch content is converted into sucrose and simple sugars like fructose and glucose.
- Its pulp has more fiber than in jackfruit, which makes it a good bulk laxative. Dietary fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol by preventing its absorption in the gut, reduce obesity, blood pressure and help protect the colon mucous membrane by warding off cancer-causing chemicals from the colon.
- The fruit has moderate levels of essential vitamins, and minerals. Like other tropical delicacies, it is rich in many vital B-complex groups of vitamins. The fruit is a moderate source of vitamins, especially thiamin, pyridoxine, and niacin.
- Fresh fruit is an excellent source of potassium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Its pulp is good in copper, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.
- Breadfruit seeds contain average levels of protein; 100 g seeds provide 7.4 g or 13% of daily-recommended values. However, they are excellent sources of minerals like potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, selenium, manganese, etc.
Commercially, ‘ulu has a myriad of possibilities because the fruit is so versatile. Unripened fruit is high in vitamin C. Islanders from ancient times carried it in their canoes to stave off scurvy. Today that fruit is delicious in a pickled form, much like pickled artichokes. Mature fruit can be used in dozens of recipes– appetizers, salads, main dishes, desserts, and baked goods. Breadfruit flour is gluten free and makes excellent flat breads, cookies, and so much more.
The National Botanical Tropical Garden has a recipe book, Ho`oulu ka`Ulu Cookbook: Breadfruit tips, techniques, and Hawaii`s favorite home recipe available of contest winning recipes from across the islands.
‘Ulu may help us survive the upheavals of global warming. It is hardy and thrives in a variety of wet and dry climates.
So, ‘ulu, or breadfruit, maybe the Next Big Thing. Remember, you saw it here first!
For more information visit The Breadfruit Institute.
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