Hawaii reconquering the breadfruit and its nourishing fruit

A mountainous amphitheater takes shape behind an organic farm in the Lualualei Valley, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii (United States). Between the fields of lettuce, carrots and daikon (a white radish) grow thousands of fruit trees: lemon trees, avocado trees, mango trees, lime trees…

A tree with grayish bark and large, serrated leaves, however, reigns supreme. “Our main fruit tree is the ulu”proudly attests Kahealani Hrbacek, agroforestry manager at MA’O farm, using the Hawaiian name for breadfruit. Artocarpus altilis produces green fruits the size of a grapefruit which contain white flesh, rich in starch. Eaten young, these fruits taste like potatoes. As they ripen, they soften, become sweeter, and develop tropical flavors.

Imported in Polynesian canoes a millennium ago, breadfruit has nourished generations of Hawaiians and fascinated European explorers crisscrossing the Pacific. Fallen out of love during the imposition of customs Anglo-Saxon from the 19th centurye century, it is now rediscovered by a new generation of farmers, who appreciate its nutritional qualities and see in it an instrument of cultural affirmation.

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“I like to believe that it was the ulu who found me”says Mme Hrbacek, a young woman with Hawaiian roots, who grew up in California without knowing the fruit of her ancestors. She learned about it by chance, during her degree in soil sciences at the University of Hawaii, before studying it more specifically. “Breadfruit has grown enormously in popularity since I first became interested in it just seven years ago”explains the farmer.

At the end of the morning, she makes her rounds. A row of breadfruit trees planted in 2019 shows dead leaves. “A few weeks ago, the fruits of these trees were found to be misshapen and yellow. They did not ripen and had a rubbery texture. They are missing something, she explains. But the fruits in the other row over there were green and huge. The quantity of water delivered by the irrigation system must be to blame. »

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The MA’O farm sells its uluses at the market, from its subscribers in direct sales, and at certain restaurateurs, such as the chic Mud Hen Water in the Kaimuki district [à Honolulu]which offers reinvented Hawaiian cuisine.

A step remains to be taken towards mass distribution, but the company aspires to one day conquer supermarkets. Stimulated by the new offering from farms like MA’O, cooks are inventing a host of ways to consume breadfruit, beyond the traditional roasting in embers: in curries, au gratin, in cakes, in crepes… Part of the population is gradually returning this starchy food to their diet, although ulu remains a niche product, available in small quantities and still unknown to a large number of consumers.

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