National Geographic
Menu

Geography in the News: Breadfruit, Food Source for the Tropics

By Neal Lineback and Mandy Lineback Gritzner, Geography in the NewsTM and Maps.com

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS BREADFRUIT?

Although obesity is in the news in the West, starvation and malnutrition are prevalent in many parts of the world. Scientists continue to search for new food sources. One of the most promising foods gaining interest is breadfruit.

Most westerners have never heard of breadfruit, but it is an amazing food crop with a huge potential. A starchy staple crop that can be grown under a wide range of environmental conditions, breadfruit may help alleviate the world’s hunger crisis in the future. The Breadfruit Institute, a group within the nonprofit National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), is working to secure breadfruit’s place as “the food of the future.”

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a flowering tropical tree belonging to the mulberry family Moraceae. The fruits are the size of a football and prickly, with a soft yellowish interior that is sweetly fragrant when ripe. One of the world’s highest yielding food plants, a breadfruit tree can produce up to 200 or more fruits, about 450 pounds (204 kg) a year.

1158_081012breadfruit

Breadfruit has long been a staple food in the Pacific Islands. It is nutritious, supplying 121 calories in a half-cup serving. Rich in fiber, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, copper and other nutrients, breadfruit can be roasted, baked, fried or boiled. With a texture and yeasty odor reminiscent of freshly baked bread, the taste of breadfruit is actually quite bland, like undercooked white potato, according to some. Therefore, many people mix it with other foods and spices such as coconut milk, salt, butter, sugar or meats.

Breadfruit trees grow quickly, reaching a mature height of about 85 feet (26 m). Not only do the trees provide food for decades without the labor, fertilizer and chemicals used to grow field crops, but breadfruit trees are multipurpose, according to an article in ArcNews by scientists from the NTBG (Summer 2012). The trees provide timber and animal feed, improve soil conditions and protect watersheds in areas where they are grown.

In addition, the entire breadfruit tree can be used. For example, the male flowers are often dried and burned to create a mosquito repellent. All parts of the tree yield a latex, or milky juice, which is used as boat caulking.

First found in Papua New Guinea almost 3,000 years ago, breadfruit was widely spread throughout the Pacific by migrating Polynesians. Indonesians further expanded the plant west and north through inland and coastal Southeast Asia. Voyagers took breadfruit to other tropical locations more than 200 years ago, including the Caribbean and Africa.

Today, the Breadfruit Institute, located in Hawaii, (where, incidentally, breadfruit has been cultivated as a staple food for centuries) seeks to promote the versatile breadfruit tree for food and reforestation around the world. The Breadfruit Institute maintains the world’s largest collection of breadfruit, with more than 120 varieties from throughout the Pacific.

Many countries are already benefitting from the Breadfruit Institute’s research. With requests from numerous countries for breadfruit varieties for tree-planting projects, the Breadfruit Institute has been forced to develop innovative propagation methods. Now, according the article in ArcNews, the institute can ship thousands, or even millions of breadfruit plants anywhere in the world.

The breadfruit plant grows best in the world’s tropics—the climate located generally around the Earth’s equator approximately between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5 degrees north latitude) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5 degrees south latitude). The institute created a suitability map showing the breadfruit’s global range within the Tropics. When this map is coupled with a map of the world’s global hunger index for each country, the data demonstrate how the hungry could be fed using breadfruit.

Already, about 40 percent of the world’s population lives in the tropics, with most of the world’s one billion hungry also residing there. With both of those statistics predicted to increase as the world’s population doubles by the end of the century, food security in the world’s tropical regions will become dire. No other food crop but breadfruit has an equivalent potential for feeding such large and increasing numbers.

Breadfruit’s long, high-yielding and low-maintenance life may make it the perfect “food for the future.”

And that is Geography in the NewsTM

Co-authors are Neal Lineback, Appalachian State University Professor Emeritus of Geography, and Geographer Mandy Lineback Gritzner. University News Director Jane Nicholson serves as technical editor.

Sources: Lucas, Matthew P. and Diane Ragone, National Tropical Botanical Garden, “Will Breadfruit Solve the World Hunger Crisis?,” ArcNews, Summer 2012, pgs. 6 and 7 (http://www.esri.com/news/arcnews/summer12articles/will-breadfruit-solve-the-world-hunger-crisis.html);  and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203752604576645242121126386.html; http://ntbg.org/breadfruit/; and http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2013/feb/19/obesity-map-of-world-weight

(This is an revised and updated version of GITN 1158 “Who in the World Eats Breadfruit?,” published on July 27, 2012, by Maps.com.)

Nearly 900 of the 1200, full-length weekly Geography in the NewsTM articles (with Spanish translations) are available in the K-12 online education resource Maps101.com, including maps and other supporting materials and critical thinking questions.
 

Comments

  1. Kai
    September 20, 2013, 5:55 pm

    I had a tree growing in my garden in Jakarta Indonesia they are growing everywhere here, they grow so easy here

  2. David
    USA
    August 22, 2013, 6:00 pm

    The Breadfruit was very important to England in the mid 1700′s. In fact the primary cargo of The Bounty was Breadfruit gathered in the East Indies to be transplanted in the West Indies. It is supposed to taste exactly like bread.