Beverley has a degree in Science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.
“What the . . .?”
That was me as a child, sleep interrupted, wondering what I'd just heard. The next morning I discovered it was a fully ripe breadfruit that had fallen on the roof of my maternal grandmother’s house. Got me every time.
That humongous breadfruit tree, laden branches spread wide, would shed its unharvested fruit, creating yellow, pasty, fragrant splashes on the roof and yard. My brothers and I would collect some of it for our play lunch or dinner that day.
We didn’t have a breadnut tree (which we called chataigne) but our neighbors did. We could not wait to share their bounty, however.
What Is Breadfruit?
An unripe breadfruit has green skin with white, hard, fibrous flesh. A fully ripe breadfruit skin fades to very light brown or yellow. The flesh becomes yellowish and gooey with a sweet odor. Some breadfruits have seeds. The tree on my grandmother’s property bore oval fruits with brown, oblong, semi-flat, soft, seed-holding structures in the middle. White, sticky latex fluid leaked from their skins. It leaked from other parts of the tree as well. Latex on the fruit’s rind determined its maturity. Both unripe and ripe versions are edible.
The Pacific Islands have been using breadfruit for at least 3,000 years. It arrived on Caribbean shores in the late 18th century. The large-leaf tree is botanically called Artocarpus altilis (Parkinson) Fosberg. It belongs to the mulberry or Moraceae plant family. Figs are also members of the family.
What Is Breadnut?
The skin of the unripe breadnut is green, spiny and latex-dripping. The white, fibrous interior is dotted with at least 50 white/ tan, large, soft seeds. When ripe, the skin becomes brown and the inner flesh turns light yellow with a soft texture. The seeds form a brown, hard, intricately-patterned shell. Breadnut rapidly deteriorates after its harvested. It lasts roughly two days. Both immature and mature fruits are consumed.
Breadnut, also commonly called Maya nut, is not closely related to breadfruit as some people believe it is. It does belong to the Mulberry plant family, but is its own species. Its botanical name is Brosimum alicastrum or Artocarpus camansi blanco. It is indigenous to the Pacific Islands and Southeastern Asia. The tree also has large leaves. Like breadfruit, it is about 3,000 years old and was exported to the Caribbean in the 1790s.
Growing up in the Caribbean, I didn't realize how fortunate I was to have both of these fruits as staples in my diet.
As a child, I did not consider the nutrition in this versatile food. To me, it was simply a staple part of our real and play meals. But breadfruit is loaded with important nutrients: protein, dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C, minerals potassium, copper, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and iron, flavonoids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Back in the day, my young siblings and I couldn’t wait to get our hands on the breadnut or chataigne seeds for their delicious flavor and nutty texture. We had no idea what good nutrients they provided. What is the nutritional profile of breadnut? It has a rich vein of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, protein, vitamins A, B-complex, C, minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and zinc and the omega fatty acids.
Considering their potent nutritional value, breadfruit and breadnut have the potential to offer a number of health benefits. Always consult your healthcare provider before consuming any food for health reasons. There’s no medical evidence that breadfruit and breadnut/chataigne can cure, treat or prevent disease.
- Proteins, consisting of amino acids, are the “building blocks” of our cells. Breadfruit and breadnut are especially rich in essential amino acids, which we must get from the foods we consume.
- Dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble) slows digestion, which prevents spikes in blood sugar and blood pressure. This helps lower the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The fiber also feeds our healthy gut bacteria or microbiota, which reduces the risk of diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colon cancer. The insoluble fiber adds bulk to our waste material, making exit from our bodies easier.
- Complex carbohydrates are necessary for maintaining a healthy digestive system and microbiota.
- B vitamins, in general, play crucial roles in the extraction of energy from our food and the conversion to usable cellular energy called ATP or formally, adenosine triphosphate. Studies imply that they are also important in maintaining cardiovascular and blood health, DNA synthesis, nervous system, cognitive and mental health.
- Vitamin C and flavonoids may give breadfruit and breadnut, including the seeds, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, according to research. Vitamin C has shown to reduce the risk of ailments like heart disease, stroke and cancer. Along with flavonoids, it protects against cellular oxidative stress, free radical damage and microbial pathogens, and boosts our immune system.
- The minerals in breadfruit and breadnut are necessary for healthy cardiovascular tissues, including our heart, brain and nervous system, bones and muscles. They’re involved in the production of critical hormones and enzymes, and other cellular activities.
- Omega fatty acids. Breadfruit is an excellent source. So is breadnut. Our bodies are unable to produce omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, so we must get them from our food. Research show the lipids may help us reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and diabetes.
Side Effects and Safety Concerns
No matter what we consume, there’s always the possibility of allergies. What are potential symptoms? They may include nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, hives, difficulty breathing and even life-threatening anaphylaxis (low blood pressure, tongue and throat swelling, breathing difficulties, nausea, etc.).
Breadnut seeds have been known to cause flatulence.
Raw unripe breadfruit and breadnut should not be eaten.
Harvest and Preparation of Breadfruit
Breadfruits are harvested by climbing the tree and breaking their stalks so they fall. They can be eaten without cooking when fully ripe. Ripe or not, it’s prepared in a variety of ways.
My family and I enjoyed it boiled in salted water, fried, baked, roasted, as chips like potato, mashed again like potato, in soup and in stew with other vegetables, salted meat and coconut milk, which, in Trinidad and Tobago, we called ‘oil down.’ Some countries even make desserts and commercially, flour.
Harvest and Preparation of Breadnut
Breadnut is also harvested by hand. Many people, including my family, were more interested in the seeds. We extracted them and boiled or roasted them like chestnuts. The flesh can also be prepared in much the same way as breadfruit.
Are Breadfruit and Breadnut Related to Jackfruit?
You may be familiar with jackfruit and wondered if it was related to breadfruit and/ or breadnut. The answer is yes. The first word in its botanical name, you’ll notice, is similar to both: Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam. Jackfruit also belongs to the mulberry or Moraceae plant family, and is cultivated in similar countries. The fruit’s flesh is prepared as you would breadfruit and the seeds as you would breadnut.
Do Try These Fruits!
It’s great to discover the rich nutritional profiles and potential health benefits of breadfruit and breadnut. It’s also great to share the information with you. If you live in the United States, you may be unable to find these foods in your local supermarket. If there are Caribbean, Latin or Asian markets in your town, you may find them there. Today breadfruit and breadnut can be purchased canned or as prepared foods such as cakes and chips. Less we forget, there’s breadfruit flour as well.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Beverley Byer