A Tropical Taste of Hawaii: 'Ulu Breadfruit - Dengarden - Home and Garden
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A Tropical Taste of Hawaii: 'Ulu Breadfruit

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The author lives in a quiet rural community in lower Puna on the Big Island. He's an avid gardener, traveler, and photographer.

Breadfruit tree with fruits ready to be picked.

Breadfruit tree with fruits ready to be picked.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis or Artocarpus camansi) is a fantastic fruit tree found in most tropical/subtropical regions: from the South Pacific to Central America, from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia.

Native to Micronesia and Polynesia, breadfruit is known for its prolific crop yield and high nutritional values. It has long been a staple food in many tropical places around the world.

In Hawaii, breadfruit is called ‘ulu. Along with taro and coconut, ‘ulu plays an important role in Hawaiian history, tradition, and cuisine.

Young, immature fruits.

Young, immature fruits.

Abundant and versatile breadfruit

Breadfruit can grow into an impressive tree 70-80 feet high, with its canopy spreads out 30-40 feet wide. Its dark green, deeply lobed leaves are attractive and exotic looking.

Fruiting occurs several times a year, usually peaks during the hot summer months. A single tree can produce more than 100 fruits per season!

The edible fruits are either round or oblong, about the size of a cantaloupe melon. Unripe fruits have green, spiky skin. As they ripen, the skin turns yellowish and becomes less spiny.

Male flower (brown) and fully developed female flower (fruit).

Male flower (brown) and fully developed female flower (fruit).

Breadfruit has been widely cultivated, and there are now hundreds of varieties. Some cultivars produce soccer ball-sized fruits!

All parts of a breadfruit tree contain a non-poisonous, milky sap. The sap oozes copiously when the tree’s branches, leaves, or roots are cut or damaged.

Besides being a significant food source, breadfruit has many other uses. Pacific islanders build houses and boats with breadfruit timber. The tree’s inner barks are made into paper and clothing. In Southeast Asia, farmers feed overripe fruits and fallen leaves to livestock. The sap is used as a natural folk medicine to treat various wounds, infections, and skin diseases.

Sticky latex sap drips from a cut stem.

Sticky latex sap drips from a cut stem.

How to eat breadfruit

Breadfruit can be eaten when the fruits are unripe or ripe.

Unripe fruits are tough and starchy, must be cooked before consumption. Use a knife to remove the skin and cut the fruit in half. Remove and discard the core. Cut the halves into quarters or smaller pieces for cooking – boil, roast, or fry. When cooked, breadfruit tastes like baked potatoes but is much more nutritious!

Ripe breadfruit is soft to the touch and exudes a sweet fruity aroma. Cut the ripe fruit in half and use a large spoon to scoop out the yellow pulp. The pulp can be eaten raw. It has a delightful, sweet taste (a hint of mango, pineapple) and creamy texture.

Breadfruit can be steamed whole (with skin), or cut into wedges or small cubes before cooking.

Breadfruit can be steamed whole (with skin), or cut into wedges or small cubes before cooking.

How to grow breadfruit

Breadfruit is usually grown by sucker transplants or root cuttings.

Suckers are young shoots growing from surface roots under the tree. Dig them up and plant in new locations. It is the easiest and quickest method to start new breadfruit trees.

Root cuttings can be done by pruning a large root section and dividing it into 10-inch pieces. Plant them in containers filled with a mixture of peat, soil, and sand. Keep in the shade and water frequently. Suckers will develop in about two months.

Some breadfruit varieties produce fruits with seeds that can be planted. The seeds will germinate in a few weeks. However, it would take at least 6-7 years for the plants to grow, mature, and produce fruits.

'Ulu is a spectacular fruit tree growing in many gardens and parks in Hawaii.

'Ulu is a spectacular fruit tree growing in many gardens and parks in Hawaii.

Nutritional value and health benefits

Breadfruit is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet! It is packed with carbohydrates, antioxidants, fibers, carotenoids, and protein. Also high in minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron) and a rich source of omega-3, riboflavin, and vitamin C. It is low fat and gluten-free.

Breadfruit is reported to have many excellent health benefits including:

  • Provide good source of energy
  • Boost immune system
  • Help digestion
  • Enhance cardiovascular health
  • Control diabetes
  • Improve resistance against infections
  • Promote new cell growth (healing wounds faster)
Top: Fried breadfruit sprinkled with sea salt. Bottom left: Breadfruit stew with beans, chickpeas, and carrots.  Bottom right: Thai yellow curry with breadfruit instead of potatoes.

Top: Fried breadfruit sprinkled with sea salt. Bottom left: Breadfruit stew with beans, chickpeas, and carrots. Bottom right: Thai yellow curry with breadfruit instead of potatoes.

Culinary uses of breadfruit in Hawaii

Traditionally, breadfruit is prepared in an imu (underground oven). Whole fruits are wrapped in ti leaves, placed inside the fire pit, and roasted for several hours.

Nowadays, breadfruit is covered with tin foil and baked in a modern oven for about an hour.

Baked or roasted breadfruit is usually served as a side dish to accompany main dishes like laulau, kalua pork, huli chicken, or poke ahi.

Breadfruit can be fried in coconut oil to make chips, fritters, or vegetarian burger patties. These delicious treats are popular at a family lu'au or picnic BBQ.

Small, immature fruits are boiled whole (with skin) and then cut into small chunks to make a salad (same as potato salad). They also can be used as a substitute for potatoes in numerous hot dishes like soups, curries, stews, or seafood chowders.

Steamed breadfruit is pounded into a thick paste called ‘ulu poi and eaten as an alternative to the traditional poi made from taro roots.

Unripe fruits are cut into thin slices, dried, then ground in a food processor to make gluten-free flour for baking.

Ripe breadfruit pulp is often mixed with milk or coconut cream and flavored with chocolate or vanilla to make irresistible desserts like pie, cheesecake, pudding, and ice cream.

Hawaiian print sarong featuring beautiful 'ulu leaves and fruits.

Hawaiian print sarong featuring beautiful 'ulu leaves and fruits.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Viet Doan

Comments

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 23, 2020:

I need to know about this. I must have eaten it but I have not prepared it. We usually fry our bread fruit.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 22, 2020:

There's a great Filipino stew made with breadfruit, coconut milk, and other veggies. My coworker (she's from the Philippines) would bring it to our office potluck sometime. Served with steamed rice, so delicious! Good to hear from you Mary, take care and be safe!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 22, 2020:

I like breadfruit as my aunts used to bring these when they visit from another island. I would love to plant them in my garden in the Philippines.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 20, 2020:

Thanks Linda. It's always a pleasure to hear from you. I made a smoothie with raw ripe breadfruit yesterday, along with banana and peanut butter. Delicious!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2020:

This sounds like a very interesting plant. I'd love to taste the ripe and the unripe fruit. Thank you for sharing the information and your photos.

Viet Doan (author) from Big Island, Hawaii on September 19, 2020:

Thanks Danny! I'm glad you enjoy the article. Be safe and well.

Danny from India on September 19, 2020:

A super exotic vegetable. Thanks, Viet Doan for sharing it.