Breadfruit or ‘Ulu (in Hawaiian) has a long and storied history throughout Polynesia. Volumes could be written about its uses and cultural significance. Unfortunately, in the last few 100 years ‘Ulu has lost its rightful place in our food supply here in Hawaii. This is a shame as no other food crop has more potential to successfully address our food security and sustainability issues than ‘Ulu. It is one of the most productive crops in the world, grows for generations and is disease and pest resistant.
Although botanically speaking ‘Ulu is a fruit, it is traditionally treated as a vegetable when prepared. As it ripens the firm texture begins to soften and the starches begin to turn to sugar. At this stage the ‘Ulu can be used for a sweet or dessert application, like I did with my Pono pies. A great way to think about using firm ‘Ulu is to replace it anywhere you would use a potato. It can be baked, boiled, fried or roasted. For example, try substituting ‘Ulu in your favorite potato salad recipe or curry. Or replace it as a starch alternative to rice or noodles.
Obtaining an ‘Ulu can be a bit challenging, unless you or a friend has an ‘Ulu tree growing in the garden. It is not typically seen in the local produce section; however Mana and Whole Foods occasionally have it when it’s in season. But, if you have a big enough freezer this may not be a problem as one of the many beauties of ‘Ulu is that once steamed it can be frozen and kept for long periods of time.
The more you learn about ‘Ulu the more you realize how versatile this food is. You may not know it but we are very fortunate here on Maui to have the largest collection of ‘Ulu varieties in the world! It lies at the famous Kahanu Gardens in Hana, also home to the Piilani Heiau, the largest temple or ancient place of worship in the entire state. Do yourself a favor and stop by on your next trip to Hana; you’ll be glad you did.
The following is a recipe by Jill Kawaiaea, the Grand Prize winner in the 2005 Kahanu Garden Breadfruit Cook Off. It is a great meal for these cooler winter evenings.
Note: Another great resource online is the Breadfruit Institutes website, http://ntbg.org/breadfruit/. It is chalked full of tips, recipes, history and other useful information about this amazing Polynesian fruit.