Samui Wining & Dining
Tropical Pick

September’s Fruit of The Month – The Breadfruit.


4Some things are a must during your stay in Thailand. You must visit the Royal Palace and the floating market. You must see traditional Thai dancing, go to a ‘cabaret show’, and travel on the Skytrain in Bangkok. And it would be a sin not to experience the succulent delights of eating (and smelling) a durian fruit. There may be other things, too, and a lot of these you just can’t do on Samui. But the durian is one that you can.

      Everyone gets to know about durians, sooner or later. Love it or hate it, you can’t fail to be impressed. It’s huge, covered in nasty spikes and smells like a boatload of dead mermaids. But it tastes heavenly!

      And then, the other mighty fruit that you’ll come across here is the jackfruit. It’s a cousin of the durian, both from the mulberry family (honest!) and both are of the sub-genus Artocarpus. Jackfruits are much less scary than Durians, but they retain their dignity by being the largest fruit in the world. The daddy of them all emerged in Indonesia in 1989, weighed 94 pounds and measured 32 inches at its widest point. Try adding a slice of that to your Martini!

      And, then, somewhere in-between the two, and, mostly ignored, comes another cousin, the breadfruit. It’s not as dramatic (or as tasty) as the durian. It’s not as huge (or as regal) as the jackfruit. In fact, although it’s grown in Thailand, it’s not considered terribly useful, and isn’t a great commercial hit. Durians are the fruit-hooligans that can boast that they are banned in hotels and other public places throughout Asia. And jackfruits can smile academically and smugly about being in the Guinness Book of World Records. But, although the quiet little breadfruit (it never gets to be bigger than a kiddie’s football) doesn’t say much, it has the most colourful story of them all.

       Breadfruit – Artocarpus altilis – originated in a vast area, extending from New Guinea through to Malaysia and up into India. It was spread in the Pacific-area by migrating Polynesians, and was first seen by Europeans in 1595. The famous Captain Bligh had a ship-full of them on The Bounty in 1792, but he lost the cargo of 1,015 breadfruit plants; thrown overboard when his crew decided to mutiny.

       However, breadfruit did finally arrive there, and is now a part of South Pacific legend, having become the staple diet for islanders throughout the Pacific islands. Only bananas and breadfruit can survive the frequent tropical storms that destroy that area. Plus, every tribe had its enemies. If the hurricanes didn’t get your crops, then your enemies did. Destroying your enemy’s crops was the second-greatest victory in Polynesian society. It was second only to obtaining your enemy’s ‘mana’ – and that involved eating him. Oh, what tales the little round breadfruit could tell!

      Actually, I can understand why breadfruit is not top of the pops in Thailand. Although the Pacific islanders need it to survive, that isn’t the case over here. We’ve all got rice coming out of our ears. And with all those sweet and juicy fruits, like God’s Smarties, dropping to the ground all over Thailand, one has to pose the question – what’s the point of breadfruit?

       There, now I’ve gone and hurt its (collective) feelings. Well, you can hold your head up, old fruit. Because one can feed cattle and livestock on the leaves of the breadfruit tree. The husk of the breadfruit is full of gummy latex that’s great for catching birds, and gluing feathers into ceremonial headdresses. And, if you mix it with coconut oil, it makes your boats waterproof, too. And that’s just for starters.

      Malaysians wear clothes made from the bark, and, in the Philippines, it’s made into harnesses for water buffalos. And it would seem that the male flowers can be used to make very elegant loincloths. A stew of the leaves is believed to lower blood pressure, and the juice can cure ear-ache. And if you’ve got tooth-ache, then rub the roasted flowers onto your gums. It’s just the job!

         In Spanish it’s called ‘fruta de pan’ and in French it’s ‘fruit a pain’. In Honduras, you’ll need to ask for ‘mazapan’, but call it ‘castano de Malabar’ if you ever go to Yucatan. And in Malaysia it’s ‘kelur’ – but while you’re in Thailand, if you want one, then just ask for ‘sah-kaay’

         But, sadly, unless you’re living in a tree somewhere and want a new loincloth, or have buffalos to harness, then, despite its many splendid rural uses, breadfruit won’t be on your shopping list. Durians? Probably. And those little, red, hairy rambutans that taste like nectar? Well, they’re a must, too. But, although it’s a truly interesting fruit, there’s only one thing I can say about actually eating breadfruit. And that is that it’s entirely – up to you!


Rob De Wet


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