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Breadfruit

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Chataigne

Poole Village, Trinidad

The three main types of breadfruit found in the Caribbean are the yellow heart, the white heart, and the prickly breadfruit, more commonly known as chataigne. ('Chataigne' is the French word for 'chestnut,' and the fruit was certainly given its name because of its similarity, in both taste and smell, to the chestnut of the temperate countries.)

The breadfruit is believed to be native to the area extending from New Guinea through the Indo-Malayan Archipelago and Western Micronesia. The early English explorers who discovered breadfruit in the early 18th century were so impressed with its versatility as a food that after several periods of famine in Jamaica between 1780 and 1786, plantation owners in what was then the British West Indies petitioned King George III to import seedless breadfruit trees to provide food for their slaves. Captain William Bligh made his first voyage to Tahiti in 1787 with a cargo of over 1,000 potted breadfruit plants, but on this expedition his crew staged a mutiny and he was forced to try again to introduce breadfruit to the Caribbean. His second attempt was a successful one, and in 1793 the HMS Providence delivered 600 plants from Tahiti to St. Vincent and Jamaica. The shipment also included the seeded breadfruit, chataigne, which had been picked up during a stopover at Timor, where Bligh had travelled with the remaining members of the crew after the mutiny. The director of the St. Vincent Botanical Garden was a great advocate of the new crop and distributed plants to the Leeward and Windward Islands and the Bahamas. Most of the breadfruit in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the tropics originated from those few early introductions. The French also brought breadfruit to their Caribbean colonies: Martinique and Cayenne received a variety from Tonga via the Pamplemousse Botanical Garden in Mauritius.

When breadfruit first reached the Caribbean, the slaves refused to eat the foreign food and it was instead fed to animals. Only years after abolition did Caribbean people begin to eat it themselves.

Nutritional analysis reveals that breadfruit (the seedless variety) is a relatively good source of iron, calcium, potassium, riboflavin, and niacin. The mature fruit is high in carbohydrates, low in fat and protein, and a good source of minerals and vitamins, especially B vitamins. The nutritional composition of breadfruit varies depending on the method of preparation and the ripeness of the breadfruit (ripe breadfruit is more nutritious). Chataigne contains twice the protein of the seedless breadfruit and is also low in fat.

Breadfruit is a cook's delight. It can be cooked and eaten at all stages of maturity, although it is most commonly harvested and consumed when it is mature but firm. It can be used in place of potato and as a rice substitute. The very green ones are used for chips when the breadfruit is green (but mature); the riper (but firm) ones can be used for pie in much the same way as macaroni and cheese. It can be roasted with butter on an open fire and can be boiled as a simple side dish. It also makes a good soufflé when combined with milk and eggs and can be made into a roll with stuffing. It can be boiled and crushed, mixed with seasonings, egg and cheese, and deep fried to make breadfruit cheese balls. One of the most popular dishes made with breadfruit is oildown, which is a one-pot meal made with pigtail, seasonings, coconut milk and sometimes dasheen bush. Ripe chataigne seeds are usually boiled in salt water and eaten as a snack.

Breadfruit must be used within a few days of being picked. It is often stored in water to prevent it from deteriorating.

 

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Chataigne Tree

Poole Village, Trinidad

 

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Very Young Chataigne

Poole Village, Trinidad

 

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Last modified: February 16, 2008