By Léo Azambuja

Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute

Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute.

A food crop that once played a major role in providing food security for hundreds of thousands of native Hawaiians could be the key to unlock sustainability for millions of people living in some of the most hunger-ridden areas in the world.

“People are starting to really recognize our food systems don’t work, and breadfruit is a really important way in the Pacific to have a sustainable food system in a very environmentally beneficial way,” said Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

‘Ulu, the Hawaiian name for all varieties of breadfruit, is a starchy fruit that when cooked, resembles a potato in texture and flavor, but is a lot more versatile in the kitchen. If harvested when it’s really young, it tastes like artichoke hearts. If left on the tree to mature further, the fruit turns soft and sweet, and can be eaten raw.

Sam Choy, Hawai‘i's Breadfruit Ambassador. Photo by Jim Wiseman

Sam Choy, Hawai‘i’s Breadfruit Ambassador. Photo by Jim Wiseman

When you look at the nutritional value of this gluten-free staple, it is high in complex carbohydrates, rich in dietary fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, thiamin, niacin and vitamin A and B. It also has a moderate glycemic index compared to potatoes, white rice and white bread.

Reaching maturity in three to four years, a single tree producing 100 to 200 fruits per year can provide 200 to 400 pounds of food.

Ragone has been doing research on breadfruit for about 30 years, collecting, documenting and studying hundreds of varieties from all over the globe. Since the 1990s, people have been calling NTBG wanting breadfruit, she said.

Meanwhile, in the last few years, knowing the value and the potential breadfruit could have globally, NTBG partnered with Dr. Susan Murch, Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, who does micro-propagation. From a single breadfruit bud, thousands of clones can be grown. Then, Cultivaris, LLC, an innovative horticultural company based in California and Germany, grows the clones until they are healthy enough to be shipped anywhere in the world.