Where Are Hawaii's Breadfruit Trees?

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Where Are Hawaii's Breadfruit Trees?

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Hawaii Island , Kauai , Maui , Oahu
Jan 04, 2011

Ulu, also known as breadfruit, made its entry to Hawaii when the first Polynesians navigated their way to the islands by stars, sun, moon, currents and wind.  They packed aboard double-hulled voyaging canoes seeds, small plants and cuttings from 27 different species of flora that they figured might be useful for their new life in what came to be called Hawaii.

According to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, archaeological evidence suggests that Limahuli Valley on Kauai's north shore served as one of the earliest settlements in Hawaii.  You will find an ulu tree right outside their visitor center; it's the first featured plant on their self-guided tour.  Apart from the tree growing here, I know of only two others growing in friends' backyards.

I wonder: Have you ever eaten breadfruit?

You may recall from stories about Captain Bligh and his mutinous crew that set sail from Tahiti aboard the British Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Bounty.  They were carrying a cargo of breadfruit trees, destined for the Caribbean Islands.  If you know your history, you know the trees--nor the crew--ever made it to the Caribbean.  At least, not on that journey.

Breadfruit is prized for its nutritious value--high in complex carbohydrates and a good source of vitamin B and calcium.  From what I've read, you can substitute breadfruit for potatoes in just about any recipe.  The tree itself grows tall, from thirty to sixty feet, and its dark green, geometric leaves form a shapely and dense canopy, while its fruit can weigh up to 10 pounds.  And, apparently, ulu is easy to grow.

So, why, then, aren't more people growing breadfruit trees in Hawaii?

In Old Hawaii, ulu had many uses, according to Beatrice H. Krauss.  In Plants in Hawaiian Medicine, she writes that the trunk was carved into small canoes.  Its planks were used as poi pounding boards.  Its milky sap was used to caulk seams in canoes.  Other parts of the tree were used to make coarse kapa--tapa--and as sandpaper.  And, of course, its fruit was baked in an imu (underground pit) for a starchy accompaniment to a meal, pounded into poi or mixed with cream to make pudding.  Ulu was also added to a poultice for medicinal uses.

The name, breadfruit, derives, so it's said, from the scent of baking bread that the roasting fruit gives off.

Last month, my friends Charlie and Susan, along with their daughter Andy, decided to experiment with breadfruit.  They bought ulu at a local farmers market--Kapaa, I believe--and made muffins and breadfruit salad.  The gracious people that they are, they shared the quite tasty results of their efforts with me, stirring me to ask, again, between bites, why aren't more people growing breadfruit trees in their yards in Hawaii?

I think it's time to investigate.  In the mean time, try this classic Hawaii recipe, courtesy of The Hawaii Farmers Market Cookbook: Fresh Island Products from A to Z.

Taro, Sweet Potato and Ulu Salad
1 cup Chinese taro, cooked and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup Okinawan (purple) sweet potato, cooked and cut into 1-inches cubes
1 cup golden sweet potato, cooked and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup breadfruit (ulu), cooked and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 stalks green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup sweet onions, sliced
1 teaspoon Hawaiian salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup of your favorite salad dressing

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.  Serves four.

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