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Fruit of the Month: Breadfruit

Breadfruit, native to Southeast Asia, arrived in Costa Rica with sailors in the early 1800's. The breadfruit tree is an equatorial lowland species, and therefore flourishes in warm, tropical environments usually within 2,000 feet of sea level. Known locally as "fruta de pan," it is most commonly found along Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, from Tortuguero south through Limon, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo.

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In Costa Rica, breadfruit trees grow up to 50 feet tall and have smooth, brown trunks. The tree's wood is very lightweight, and is often crafted into canoes, oars and other products. Breadfruit roots, flowers and leaves are also used in medicinal plant preparations, most notably to relieve asthma, reduce blood pressure, treat toothaches and cure earaches and skin infections. 

This flowering tree, which is part of the mulberry family, can produce up to 200 fruits each year. These grapefruit-sized orbs are best harvested slightly green, since they lose flavor when they turn yellow at maturity. Breadfruit has the consistency of a potato and, true to its name, a mild flavor similar to freshly baked bread. Due to high levels of starch, breadfruit is always baked, fermented or cooked before consumption.

Breadfruit is comprised of 25% carbohydrates and 70% moisture; it is a suitable substitute for other starches. One 3.5-ounce serving contains 110 calories, very little fat, 1.5 grams of fiber and almost 30 grams of carbohydrates. The fruit also contains small amounts of potassium, zinc, thiamin, phosphorus and calcium. 

Cooks love breadfruit for its ability to absorb other flavors. Breadfruit's various preparations are similar to those of baking potatoes, yucca, green plantains, taro root and other starchy fruits and vegetables. Most often, breadfruit is served as a savory dish, either sliced and fried alone or mixed with meat, vegetables, herbs and spices. Though not sweet itself, some cooks also combine breadfruit with sugar or coconut milk to produce a tropical dessert dish.

Baked Breadfruit

1 large breadfruit
3 tablespoons green onion, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 sweet peppers, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup carrot, cooked and chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1 large egg, beaten

Wash breadfruit. Use a knife to cut deep air vents into the fruit. Bake at 350º F for 90 minutes. Add oil to a large frying pan and saute green onion, yellow onions and peppers. When the onions are soft and starting to caramelize, add parsley and cook a 3-5 minutes longer.

Add vegetable stock and cooked carrots to the frying pan. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes.

Once the breadfruit has cooled, cut off the top and scoop out the pulp, leaving just the shell (about 1/2" thick). Grate or mash the pulp and fold into the hot vegetable mixture. Stir in the beaten egg, then add the breadfruit and vegetable mixture back into the shell. Secure the top with toothpicks, wrap in heavy foil and bake at 425º F for 30-40 minutes. Unwrap, cut into wedges and serve hot.

Fruit of the Month: Breadfruit in Pictures

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