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Breadfruit's bounty

A plant, which became famous thanks to history's greatest ever mutiny, the breadfruit's value and worth are incomparable

WEST INDIES: the 1780s. Plantation owners, seeking cheap and abundant food for their famished slaves, funded expeditions to the South Pacific for breadfruit plants. On April 28, 1789, one such vessel, HMS Bounty, was three weeks out of Tahiti, laden with potted breadfruit plants, when Master's Mate Fletcher Christian famously mutinied against Capt. William Bligh. The most famous mutiny in history culminated in one of the greatest ever feats of seamanship — which was only weakly depicted in the Anthony Hopkins-Mel Gibson movie: with only a compass, a watch and five days supply of food and water, Capt. Bligh navigated his launch and crew across 6,000 km of the Pacific Ocean to Timor.

For centuries in Polynesia, the breadfruit's significance as crop of abundance and as a lifesaver in famine spawned many creation myths around it. European seafarers first stumbled upon this fruit in Micronesia in the late 16th century, and ships like the HMS Bounty helped spread it from its native habitat of Polynesia and Indo-Malaya to the New World where it is now a leading food crop.

In the tropical paradises of the South Pacific, the islanders eat the fruit boiled, baked on hot rocks, fried with syrup and palm sugar, pickled, candied, fermented, and as soup. In the Caribbean, breadfruit flour — more nutritious than wheat flour in its amino acid profile — is a common starch base for bread and porridge.

The seeds, salted after being roasted, boiled or steamed, are a popular snack on the streets of Latin America. About 100 gm of the raw fruit contains 105 calories, mostly in the form of carbohydrate. The raw fruit is purgative, and some form is cooking is a must for most varieties. Seeded breadfruit is more nutritious than the more convenient seedless varieties because the seeds are rich in protein. The flour is energy dense, with 100 gm containing nearly four gm of lysine-rich protein and 76 gm of carbohydrate, amounting to nearly 330 calorie.

Crushed breadfruit leaves are a common folk cure in the Pacific Islands for oral candidiasis. In the Caribbean, the leaf decoction is a folk cure for hypertension and asthma, the leaf juice for ear infections, and the roasted flowers for sore gums. The crushed fruit is a condemnable poultice for tumours, and the latex is a weakly effective remedy for skin infections.


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