Mythologists and botanists agree on this point: breadfruit trees make a fine inheritance. One of the most influential naturalists of the eighteenth century, Sir Joseph Banks, commented that “Regarding food, if a man plant ten [breadfruit] trees in his life, he would completely fulfill his duty to his own as well as future generations. . . .”
At the Breadfruit Institute, Cole and Ragone endeavor to fulfill their duty, not just in Hawai‘i, but around the globe. Their aim? Ending world hunger — a goal that might not be as farfetched as it sounds. They’ve already shipped breadfruit starts to malnourished communities in Zimbabwe, Honduras, Ghana, and Haiti.
Breadfruit is rich in carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and essential minerals. According to Cole, a serving of breadfruit has the equivalent potassium of two-and-a-half potatoes, ten bananas or twenty bowls of white rice. Compared to other starchy crops, breadfruit is superior due, in part, to its verticality. Trees require less land and far less effort to cultivate than do other dietary staples.
“I’d much rather go pick my starch from a tree than grow a field of wheat or potatoes,” says Ragone.
In Hawai‘i, she and her coworkers have helped plant 4,000 trees. The Institute partners with the Hawai‘i Homegrown Food Network to reawaken the community’s deep-rooted yet dormant love for ‘ulu. As Ho‘oulu ka ‘Ulu, they host annual breadfruit festivals on Kaua‘i and the Big Island, and ‘ulu-cooking competitions in Hana. They’ve published the winning recipes in a book that celebrates ‘ulu as a delicious, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.
“If you had to pick one Hawaiian food that showcases sustainability, it would be ‘ulu — even more thankalo,” says recent breadfruit convert John Cadman, who won the grand prize at a 2012 cook-off with‘ulu wontons.