Feeding the World with Ulu – Maui Breadfruit Institute

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You have probably never heard of ulu, I hadn’t until my first trip to Maui last year. It is known to the rest of the world as breadfruit but it isn’t known well at all.

But this exotic fruit should be because while everyone is focusing on how to ship peanuts to Africa, something already exists that can feed the world.

Today was my second time visiting the Breadfruit Institute and I promise myself this time I would share why breadfruit could be so important to addressing food security around the world.

It looks like stinky durian or jackfruit but it isn’t really a fruit but is used more like a potato or other starch.

Hawaiians used to eat it traditionally but over the years their diet has changed so while they may have grown up with a breadfruit tree in their backyard, they wouldn’t think now to eat it.


And that is too bad because the micronutrients are higher than the commonly eaten rice and there is more potassium than taro.

And with so many Hawaiians having issues with obesity and diabetes this is a great option as it is low on the glycemic index.

But its usefulness doesn’t stop there.

Breadfruit grows like a weed – quickly and without much maintenance needed.

Traditionally it grows in tropical climates, its ancestor is the breadnut from Papua New Guinea, it’s well known in the Caribbean and they still eat it in Jamaica.

A while back the Breadfruit Institute looked at a map of where the world had issues with food security.

When they overlaid a map of where the trees would grow well they discovered they were the same areas.

It doesn’t get any easier than that.

But the Breadfruit Institute is not a government organization, it depends on private donors who know about its cause and want to help.

The Institute just spend eight years developing a propagation methodology so that they could send trees that are ready to be planted when they arrive.

So far they are in Ghana, Liberia, Burma and Haiti amongst other regions.

The institute on Hawaii is a small patch of land but there are over 120 varieties, some exist here but no longer where they originated.

Ian Cole explains the focus is to preserve the collection rather than to breed new varieties.

They simply do not have the capacity to do both well and there is a need to send varieties that already exist to regions around the world.


Here Ian practices what he preaches. There are no potatoes in his house, he has replaced every meal that requires potatoes with breadfruit and his girlfriend from Chile has figured out how to use it for empanadas.

He spends a lot of time working with chefs and the community, showing them how to cook with it.

At the annual Aloha festival there is a breadfruit cooking contest to show locals there is versatility and sophistication to the fruit that may be in their backyard.

And because I asked with such pushiness…err enthusiasm. He found an over ripe fruit for me, which has the consistency of a fruity custard.

Believe me if you tried this fruit you would never look at bland old potatoes the same way again.

Ian told me there is a Jamaican company that slices and freezes the fruit for distribution in the Caribbean and I wonder if I could find it in Toronto.

You can also find breadfruit as one of the popular Thailand fruits and fruits in Cambodia.

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Maui Visitor’s Bureau, they did not request that I write a favourable review or go back a third time for more of the over ripe custard. If you’re looking for breadfruit ideas check out this paw paw recipe.

Join the Conversation

  1. Ayngelina – I’ve been to Hawaii at least a dozen times and have heard of breadfruit. But I had never seen any before, let alone tasted it. You’ve made it sound intriguing. I will have to try some the next time I visit!

  2. Impressed that Ian’s girlfriend uses breadfruit in empanadas! Again another really interesting project, how do you find out about these organisations Ayngelina?

  3. James Shaw says:

    Breadfruit, the way I see it its closely related to Durian. Does it smell bad or something? I can never because I’ve never seen a breadfruit yet.

  4. I love breadfruit. It’s extremely popular in Belize.

  5. Ooo, I’ve seen this in the Dominican Republic. I asked some locals about it and they said that you can eat it but no one does. Seems to be another place where some education on the fruit in your own back yard is needed.

    What would you say it tastes like?

  6. TammyOnTheMove says:

    I have never heard of breadfruit before. I love super foods. When I was working for DFID we funded a project that taught Kenyans how to grow a super potato that had more vitamins and nutrients than other potatoes. I also heard a lot about Quinoa recently, which is eaten in South America a lot and has masses of nutrients too.

  7. Devkant Sangwan says:

    You are right most of the people never heard about ULU I never heard about it. Nice photographs so close. Great information about breadfruit.

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