Categorized | Agriculture

Breadfruit Festival rooted in the past (Sept. 24)

Learning to cook breadfruit will be one of the Breadfruit Festival activities. Olelo pa‘a Faith Ogawa and other celebrity chefs will be demonstrating how to make gourmet dishes from breadfruit. (Photo courtesy of Angela Tillson | Breadfruit Institute)


Hawaii Homegrown Food Network, the Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanical Garden and Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden present the Breadfruit Festival—Hooulu ka Ulu 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in South Kona.

The Breadfruit Festival celebrates the rich culture of breadfruit (ulu) in Hawaii and the Pacific, raises awareness about the importance of breadfruit for food security and gives the people an opportunity to taste many delicious ways that breadfruit can be prepared.

On the day of the festival, the Garden will also dedicate its new visitor center at noon. The festival and dedication are free and open to the public.

Breadfruit-inspired food will highlight the festivities. Chefs Olelo pa‘a Faith Ogawa of Glow Hawaii and Scott Lutey, executive chef of the Eddie Aikau Restaurant and Museum will be demonstrating how to make various delicious breadfruit dishes and giving out samples to taste.

A local food buffet featuring breadfruit will be presented by Chef Betty Saiki and the West Hawaii Community College Culinary Arts Program.

Members of the public are invited to enter the Breadfruit Cooking Contest with their own favorite recipes. Open to all Hawaii Island residents, Cooking Contest prizes will be awarded in the categories of Appetizer, Soup/Salad/Side Dish, Main Dish/Entrée, Dessert, Best of Show and Healthiest Choice.

Celebrity Chefs Mark Tsuchiyama of Hualalai Resort, Jacqueline Lau of Roy’s Restaurants, and Olelo pa‘a Faith Ogawa will be joined by food writer Sonia R. Martinez and KITV weekend anchor Pamela Young to judge the Cooking Contest.

The Breadfruit Festival will feature many Hawaiian and Pacific Islander cultural activities, including: Mahiai and educator Jerry Konanui will lead a hands-on workshop in the art of preparing ulu poi. Hawaiian cultural expert Wesley Sen will be demonstrating how to make tapa from ulu bark.

Ohana of the late Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug will share ulu preparation techniques from their home island of Satawal. Master artisan Keoni Turalde will be carving a Hawaiian pahu (drum) from ulu wood.

Cultural experts Ryan McCormack of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School and others will be giving talks on the culture, history and mythology of ulu in Hawaii. Other cultural activities include ulumaika, lei making, and quilting featuring ulu motifs.

Workshops on breadfruit propagation, tree care and maintenance, economic opportunities and other topics will be given by experts Dr. Diane Ragone and Ian Cole of the Breadfruit Institute. An art exhibit will feature breadfruit-inspired works from the Festival fine art and youth art contests. Maafala (Samoan) and Hawaiian varieties of breadfruit trees will be available for sale.

In the week leading up to the Breadfruit Festival, the Keauhou Resort will celebrate the “Taste of Ulu” by featuring gourmet dishes in its resort restaurants and at the Keauhou Farmers Market.

The Breadfruit Festival is sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Kukulu Ola—Living Hawaiian Culture Program. Other sponsors include Kamehameha Schools, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Keauhou Resort, Ke Ola Magazine, Hooulu Lahui, Kua O Ka La Public Charter School, West Hawaii Community College Culinary Arts Program, Big Island Resource Conservation and Development, Glow Hawaii, Kona ulu, Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers, Sonia R. Martinez, Apono Hawaii and dozens of individual “Breadfruit — Traditional Roots and Modern Fruits” campaign supporters.

The Breadfruit Festival is a program of Hooulu ka ulu — Revitalizing Breadfruit, a project of Hawaii Homegrown Food Network and the Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanical Garden to revitalize ulu as an attractive, delicious, nutritious, abundant, affordable, and culturally appropriate food that addresses Hawaii’s food security issues.

Dr. Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute of the National Tropical Botanical Garden will be one of the expert speakers at the Breadfruit Festival. (Photo courtesy of Jim Wiseman)

Everything you’ve wanted to know about ulu (breadfruit)

By Joan Namkoong

The Breadfruit Tree

Breadfruit is part of the fig family; its scientific name is Artocarpus altilis. Majestic and beautiful, tall (up to 70 feet) with a spreading canopy, the breadfruit tree has provided sustenance to Pacific Islanders for millennia.

The one to five pound roundish oval fruit has a smooth or slightly bumpy skin whose surface is patterned with hexagonal markings. The flesh is creamy white to pale yellow. Depending on the variety, there may or may not be seeds in the flesh. The skin and core are not edible.

Mature trees can produce a hundred to several hundred fruit a year and can be productive for up to 60 years. The trees are important to tropical agricultural systems, providing shade that enables other crops to grow beneath its canopy. Breadfruit’s large, dark green, glossy leaves have inspired striking patterns for quilts and other craft items.

Legendary Breadfruit

The god Ku buried himself alive to save his wife and children from starvation in a time of famine. From his body grew the breadfruit tree.

Throughout the South Pacific, a breadfruit tree is planted when a child is born, assuring that a child would never go hungry.

Breadfruit’s History

Breadfruit is a Polynesian staple originally from New Guinea, perhaps first introduced into the Marquesas around the 14th century. The climate and soil in the Marquesas is very well suited to breadfruit cultivation; more than 200 varieties were cultivated there by the 1920s.

The Marquesas are considered the center for breadfruit cultivation in the South Pacific as Hawaii was the center for taro.

Breadfruit was brought to Hawaii by the early Polynesian voyagers and was one of the 24 “canoe plants” of ancient Hawaii. But only one variety was cultivated until more recent times. The Puna area was where breadfruit flourished; the tree was planted extensively in the Hilo area and in the valleys of the Hamakua Coast. There were also extensive breadfruit groves in the Kona area.

Breadfruit provided nourishment throughout the Pacific Islands, a fact documented by Capt. James Cook in the 18th century. Plantation owners in the Caribbean got the idea of using breadfruit to feed slaves cheaply.

In 1789 Capt. William Bligh was taking thousands of breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the British West Indies when his HMS Bounty came under siege by his crew. The plants were destroyed in the mutiny on the Bounty but four years later a voyage by Bligh aboard the HMS Providence delivered breadfruit to the Caribbean.

Breadfruit was not immediately accepted as part of the diet but over time it did become a staple in the Caribbean where it is still grown from the original stock delivered by Bligh.

How Hawaiians ate breadfruit:

In the Hawaiian language, breadfruit is ulu. Ulu also refers to a round, smooth stone used in a game. Breadfruit was part of the early Hawaiian diet but it was not used as extensively as taro in most areas. However, ulu was an mainstay in some areas, especially where it was difficult to grow taro.

Some of the ways it was prepared are:

* Ulu pulehu: baked breadfruit, usually in a imu.

* Poi ulu: breadfruit that is steamed, peeled, cored and mashed with water to form a thick starchy paste

* Piepiele ulu: ripe breadfruit that is mashed and mixed with coconut milk, wrapped in ti leaves and baked

* Pepeiee ulu: breadfruit made as piepiele ulu with an abundance of coconut milk, cooked, then cooled, sliced and dried in the sun, forming a hard oily surface. This was a way of preserving ulu from one season to the next; the pepeiee ulu would have to be exposed to the sun occasionally to prevent mildew.

Other uses for breadfruit in old Hawaii

* The hardened latex of ulu was chewed like gum. The latex of the fruit also served as a glue for making hula implements with gourds and as caulking for boats.

* The sap of the tree was mixed with ground kukui and spread on tree branches to trap birds. The sap also helped to heal cuts, scratches and skin diseases.

* The dried male flowers, shriveled and rock hard, can be lit and used to repel mosquitoes.

* The sheath of ulu blossoms was dried then used like fine sandpaper to polish bowls and kukui nuts.

* The bark, leaf buds and latex were used medicinally.

* The bark could be pounded into a type of stiff tapa called poulu.

* The trunk of the ulu tree was used in the building of canoes, surfboards and shaped into poi boards and drums for hula.

* Leaves were used to wrap food.

* Mature fruits, seeds and leaves provided fodder for pigs and other animals.

Selecting breadfruit

Mature breadfruit is firm, yellow-green in color, crusty on the outside with sticky latex oozing from its skin. Within a day or two of picking, breadfruit will soften and ripen. Refrigerate mature breadfruit to retard ripening. Mature breadfruit has flavor; immature breadfruit will be bland and very sticky.

When you cut open breadfruit, the flesh should be firm; use it as you would a potato. If your finger leaves an imprint in the flesh, the breadfruit is too ripe and the starch has converted to sugar; use it for desserts.

Handling breadfruit

* The white sap or latex that oozes from a mature breadfruit is sticky and can stain your clothes. It is not harmful. Rinse and cut breadfruit under cold running water to rinse off the latex.

* Use an oiled knife to cut breadfruit; this will help prevent the latex from sticking to your knife. Or clean your knife with a little oil after cutting breadfruit.

* Breadfruit will discolor when you cut it open; rub a little lemon or lime juice on the cut surface to prevent discoloration. Or place cut breadfruit in a bowl of water.

* Cook breadfruit before removing the skin so you won’t have to deal with the latex. Except for the skin and the core, all of the breadfruit is edible. Even the seeds can be eaten, boiled until soft; they taste like chestnuts.

* If your breadfruit is mature but you can’t eat it right away, cook it then store it in the refrigerator for up to a few days. It can be frozen and will keep for several weeks or longer.

Cooking Breadfruit

* Cook breadfruit as you would potatoes: bake, steam, roast, boil or fry. It can be mashed, pureed, creamed, sliced, diced, and made into chips.

* Steam breadfruit above water to keep it from getting too moist or water logged, unless you want it moist for mashing.

* Baking breadfruit results in a drier texture.

* Cooking breadfruit in an imu is perhaps the best preparation for breadfruit. To replicate this in a home oven, wrap breadfruit in foil, sprinkle with water and bake in a 375 degree oven until soft.

* Microwaving breadfruit will dry it out.

* After steaming or baking breadfruit, you can cut it into slices and pan fry it in butter or oil. Or cut it into cubes for soups or salads, just like you would a potato. Or remove the core and stuff it with a filling and cook a little more to heat the filling; South Pacific Islanders like to stuff the core with corned beef.

* Breadfruit chips are made with thin slices of breadfruit, deep fried in oil. Slices should not be too thin – you want to taste the breadfruit!

* Ripe, creamy breadfruit can be very sweet; blend it with fruit juices and coconut milk for a smoothie.

Nutritional value

Breadfruit is high in carbohydrates, low in fat and protein. It is a good source of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, thiamine and niacin. It is also a good source of fiber. Some varieties are good sources of anti-oxidants and pro-vitamin A carotenoids.

(Joan Namkoong is a foodie and free lance food writer. Born and raised in Hawaii, she has been writing about the Hawaii food scene for over a dozen years and has been instrumental in the growth of farmers markets on Oahu and Hawaii Island. She is the author of several books including Family Traditions in Hawaii, Go Home, Cook Rice, and most recently, Food Lover’s Guide to Honolulu.)

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