Breadfruit: luxurious and traditional for some, food for pigs to others.
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I'm not lying to you....this is one of my favorite ingredients on earth. I grew up with this delicacy and I can tell you that being able to cook and eat fried smashed breadfruit is one luxurious pleasure. But not just for me, I am sure that experiencing breadfruit will be an unforgettable experience for any foodie in the world.
Breadfruit is literally beloved in my native Puerto Rico, we called it "panapen or pana". This starchy fruit of delicate flavor and fresh bread aroma, hence it's name, makes you fall for it easily. Whether is stuffed with beef, chicken, or codfish; boiled, fried, in a dough for our traditional "pastel'' (Puerto Rican tamale), or even in a "flan" (latin custard), it always feels like an exotic ingredient.
A few years ago, I was invited to a Gastronomy Congress in Jamaica and I was shocked when I saw breadfruit cooked in a thousand ways! The Jamaicans even fried it in thin slices for breakfast. It was quite a sight to see it wrapped in foil and then wood-roasted next to the aromatic "jerk pork." I could say it was one of the best comfort foods I've had in my life!
In a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I found a local food stand where breadfruit was sold for a little less than 30 cents each. I felt like if they were all screaming at me "Eat me, please." Imagine how many of them I bought knowing I have paid up to $5.00 in Puerto Rico and Miami - when I've been lucky enough to find them.
When I arrived to the house I was staying in, my Dominican friends looked at me as if I was crazy while I was in the kitchen behaving like a little girl playing with new toys. Then, I understood why my friends were giving me a weird look. I was told that, in the Dominican Republic and in Cuba, this delicacy is called "buen pan" or what is used to feed pigs, horses, and goats.
As a member of the fig family, the breadfruit tree only survives in super tropical countries. It's always green, can grow between 60 to 100 feet tall, and gives up to 450 pounds of breadfruit each season. The fruit packs 121 calories in a half-cup serving and is low in fat making it a great energy source. Also, it is a great source of fiber, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, thiamine, and niacin. Some varieties are good sources of anti-oxidants and carotenoids. Its nutritional value is much better than the ones found in the plantain, potato, and yucca.
People in Trinidad, Jamaica, Indonesia, and The Bahamas cook the leaves and use them to lower blood pressure and cure asthma.
Believe it or not, breadfruit has long been a staple in Pacific islands, from where it spread to the Caribbean and Africa by the French and English who used it as food for slaves. Jamaica and Hawaii are the main producers of this fruit and they usually eat it baked, boiled, or wood-roasted with coconut or as a base for bread dough.
Nowadays the "ulu", as breadfruit is called in Hawaii, has started to get promoted and farmers are looking forward to finding out more opportunities to use it. One such opportunity is the creation of a commercial market for breadfruit and development of value-added products such as 'ulu breads', pancakes, and flour, like Indonesians do.
People may not be used to eating breadfruit - even in countries like Colombia, Mexico, and Panama where they have it - but I hope I can help encourage everyone to eat and possibly grow more breadfruit. Just think how a breadfruit tamale could awaken your senses.