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Could Breadfruit Feed the World?

Most natural health experts and whole food devotees have probably never seen a breadfruit. Though I’ve known about breadfruit for a long time, I’ve only eaten it during my trips to the South Pacific and Hawaii, and although I didn’t go crazy for it at first, I’ve come to enjoy it. I’ve since learned that there’s much more to this humble fruit and the tree it comes from—which is actually in the mulberry family—than I once thought.

This nutrient-packed fruit comes in hundreds of varieties. It grows in poor conditions, even in salty sandy soils that can’t support other plants. Experts think it might even survive soils damaged by massive climate change. Food scientists are taking a closed look at Artocarpus altilis, the humble breadfruit.

Could breadfruit feed the world’s hungry? It thrives in warm climates, making it a good candidate for a food that defies the effects of global warming. Is it indeed nature’s original paleo fruit with a remarkable future? Let’s take a closer look at this forgotten food.

Beginnings of the Amazing Breadfruit Tree

Breadfruit is native to the Pacific Islands. It was brought to Jamaica by the infamous Captain Bligh as a cheap way to feed slaves, and the original 678 plants spread throughout the Caribbean islands. But in the Caribbean, there are only two varieties, compared to hundreds in the Pacific. Less variety means reduced genetic diversity, which results in fewer seeds, and eventually causes infertile plants.

To prevent massive die-out of breadfruit trees on Caribbean islands, scientists set out on a quest to find the elusive ancestor, the mother of all breadfruit.

By the early 2000s, Nyree Zerega and colleagues at Northwestern University in Chicago unraveled the mystery. Following the genetic thread from island to island in the South Pacific, Zerega and her team eventually found a plant called “breadnut” growing in New Guinea, which matched the genetic fingerprint for the antecedent of all breadfruit trees.

Paleo-archaeologists study human evolution and how humans have adapted to and shaped their environment. These scientists found that from modern day Taiwan to New Guinea, natives were cultivating bananas, taro root, and breadfruit for more than 4,000 years. Eventually, humans took to the vast South Pacific, colonizing islands as far as Polynesia and Hawaii. With them went breadfruit.

Energy and Nutrition From Breadfruit

We need energy to survive. The main energy sources from foods are carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Breadfruit is a prime candidate as a gluten-free and high-carbohydrate energy source. One cup provides 227 calories. In comparison, one cup of cooked spaghetti has 220 calories. Carbohydrates present in the highest concentrations are arabinose, sucrose, and glucose. Not only is breadfruit gluten-free, it’s also not high in fructose.

Breadfruit is a good source of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.

Though it’s not high in total protein, with just 2.35 grams per cup, the quality of amino acids is very good. Breadfruit protein has more essential amino acids and better quality protein than soy. The highest concentrations of amino acids in breadfruit are leucine and lysine.

Breadfruit is not a good source of plant fat. Though there are fewer than 0.51 grams of fat per cup, its essential fatty acid profile contains both omega-6 and omega-3s. The essential fatty acids found in breadfruit include linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, and linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. Both are mainly present at the ripe stage.

It’s also a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins. Breadfruit is rich in potassium with 1,078 mg per cup. It also contains calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, thiamine, and niacin. Some varieties are good sources of anti-oxidants like carotenoids. It’s also a good source of fiber. One cup contains 10.8 grams of fiber.

Health Benefits of Breadfruit

Research shows that regular breadfruit intake reduces LDL, “bad” cholesterol and increases “good” HDL cholesterol. Regular consumption may help prevent colon cancer, reduce blood pressure, control diabetes, and alleviate asthma.

Five Reasons Breadfruit is Good for You:

  • High quality, gluten-free carbohydrate source
  • Better amino acid profile and more biologically available protein than soy
  • Rich in fiber
  • Good source of B-vitamins
  • High in potassium

Versatile and Nutritious Breadfruit

The fruit resembles a small green soccer ball. One breadfruit tree can easily provide the daily carbohydrate requirement for a family of five. A mature tree can produce a half-ton of fruit per year, and 125 trees out-produce all other tropical starch crops like plantains, yielding about 30,000 kilos of fruit every year.

The fruit is versatile and nutritious. It can be cooked and eaten at all stages of growth from small and immature when it’s like artichoke hearts, to when it’s starchy and mature and more like potatoes. When ripe it’s soft and sweet. The fresh fruit can be baked, boiled, roasted, or steamed.

Breadfruit trees are a multipurpose food, but also provide construction materials, herbal medicine, fabric, glue, insect repellent, and feed for animals. Breadfruit trees are part of the native pharmacopoeia in the Pacific Islands. The latex is massaged into the skin to help repair broken bones and speed up the healing of sprains. It is applied to the spine to relieve sciatica. Crushed leaves treat skin ailments and fungal diseases such as thrush, caused by Candida albicans. The diluted latex is drunk to treat diarrhea, stomachaches, and dysentery. The sap from the crushed stems of leaves is used to treat ear and eye infections. The bark is used to treat headaches. In the West Indies, the yellowing leaf is brewed into tea to reduce high blood pressure and to relieve asthma. Breadfruit leaf tea is used to control diabetes.

In traditional Polynesia, parents plant a breadfruit tree when a child is born. The tree grows slowly and bears fruit over a long time, assuring food through the person’s entire life. Perhaps we should adopt a similar tradition and plant more trees that can feed the world.

It appears that the long voyage of breadfruit is not over. If we were to plant, cultivate, and sustainably harvest breadfruit, people may survive food shortages in the overpopulated tropical zones. Perhaps it will even feed the rest of the world when global warming heats up.

Learn More About Breadfruit:
The Breadfruit Institute
Trees That Feed Foundation

Yours for Health,

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.