From the Archives
of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc.
by Len Muller
The Breadfruit - The Tree that Caused a Mutiny
breadfruit is a staple food in many parts of Polynesia. It is largely
carbohydrate, other nutrients being low. Its composition (per 100g
edible portion) is as follows:
Ascorbic Acid 30mg
breadfruit, is used, along with paper mulberry, to make tapa, or bark
cloth. The white sticky latex is used as bird lime or for caulking
canoes. The leaves are used to conserve the moisture content of food
during cooking in the imu, or underground oven.
The tree grows
10 to 15m high,and is spreading and shady. The leaves are large (to
.5m) and lobate or incised. They may be entire and oblong when juvenile
or when the tree has been damaged by high winds. Male and female
flowers are grouped in separate catkins on the same tree. Syncarp
fruits, spherical or ovoid in shape, develop from the female flower
Many varieties of seedless and seed-bearing breadfruit
are known and a program of selection of desirable varieties has been
carried out in Polynesia for many centuries.
Climatic Requirements, Propagation and Growth
its introduction to other tropical centres, the breadfruit was spread
throughout the Pacific between 21°S and 21°N. In some places,
even this limit is not reached. In Florida, just north of the tropic of
cancer, it is difficult to grow, so apparently it can be classed as
strictly tropical in its requirements. In some areas where there is a
long dry spell, certain varieties of breadfruit can be grown better
than others. In North Queensland, (Cairns, 17°S), there is a
definite slowing down of growth in the cooler weather. In Darwin
(12°S), growth of the same variety is steady all year round if
sufficient water and organic material are present. According to Massal
and Barrau (Food Plants of the South Sea Islands) the average
temperature suitable for breadfruit is probably over 71°F. It is
tolerant of a wide range of soils, and it may even tolerate some
salinity, but it cannot withstand drought. Leaves suffer wind damage,
but the tree can survive cyclones, as the branches are brittle and are
torn off, leaving the trunk and the major branches standing.
Regeneration, including the ability to bear fruit, is complete for a
large tree within two years.
The method of propagation of
seedless breadfruit is by digging up natural root suckers or by
planting sections of root in a well-drained growing medium. Growing
tips will begin to sprout in about a month. Young trees should be
planted in a wind-free position when about 1m high with a sturdy trunk.
A hole should be dug in well-drained soil, about 1m cube, and filled
with organic material.
The tree is saprophytic, and good drainage
and ample water are essential. If a tree is given a setback when it is
young, it will take years to recover. If treated well, a breadfruit
will begin to bear reasonable crops in 6 years. A mature tree may bear
50 to 150 fruit.
Approximately 50 main varieties are known, each adapted to a particular environment.
Preservation and Storage
Two methods are used in Polynesia.
The fruit are peeled and sliced 1 cm thick and dried in the sun or in a
food drier for 4 days at 120 degree F. Full-sized, but green fruit are
Fermentation: Ripe fruit are boiled, mashed, and fermented in pits. This results in a sour paste.
the fruit begin to ripen, they do so quickly and become mushy in
texture. They are inclined to ferment. To arrest ripening, boil whole
breadfruit for about 40 minutes. This denatures the enzymes of ripening
and partly ruptures the starch grains, restoring a firmer texture. It
can then be kept for about a week in the refrigerator and used as
required in recipes.
Under-ripe fruit will also keep in the refrigerator, but will soon deteriorate if left at room temperature.
THE MYSTERIOUS TREE WHICH BEARS THE VERY STAFF OF LIFE ON ITS BRANCHES
English knew a little about the breadfruit from the publication of
William Dampier's journal, "A Voyage around the World", in 1697. It was
also known to the French. Sonnerat took it from Tahiti to Mauritius in
1772. It was already growing in Indonesia and parts of Malaysia, but it
was in Polynesia that the breadfruit had become a major staple food and
selective breeding had been practiced for several centuries. It was in
Tahiti that it waited for Captain William Bligh, whose fate was
inextricably linked with it.
The events lending up to the voyage
of the Bounty began with Captain James Cook's first voyage of
exploration in the Pacific. Cook, in the Endeavour, visited Tahiti to
observe the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun, an event which
could not be witnessed from anywhere else quite as well. On this
voyage, Cook was accompanied by the famous botanist, Joseph Banks. Cook
landed at Matavai Bay on April 13, 1769, and within a few days built
Venus Fort to protect them from possible attack by the Tahitians. It
was manned constantly by 45 men, which was probably unnecessary, as the
natives were amiable, perhaps too much so. They left on July 13, after
observing the transit, and went on to explore New Zealand and to
discover the east coast of Australia.
On his second voyage, Cook
again visited Tahiti on the Resolution. Cook's third voyage also took
him to Tahiti and on to his death in Hawaii. This time he took with him
the brilliant young navigator, William Bligh. Artist for the party,
John Hebber, recorded the breadfruit in several landscapes.
after this, from the distant West Indies, planters petitioned King
George III to commission an expedition to Tahiti to secure some
breadfruit trees and to establish them in the West Indian colonies to
feed their slaves. The Government consulted Sir Joseph Banks, who
advised that Captain William Bligh was the best man to command the
expedition. The choice was a natural one, as Bligh was considered a
remarkable navigator and a worthy man who knew how to command a ship
and care for its crew.
The Mutiny on the Bounty
H.V. Evatt, in his book Rum Rebellion, comments that so far, historians
have treated Bligh most unkindly, and it is with this ill-fated voyage
that most people connect his name. The academy award-winning film
"Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) starring the handsome Clark Gable as
Fletcher Christian, mate and leader of the mutineers, and Charles
Laughton as a villainous Captain Bligh, was one of the most notable
character smears of modern times. The film was a great money-maker, but
a remake starring Marlon Brando was less successful.
arrived in Tahiti on 26th October 1788, and plant propagators worked
for five months, by which time over 1000 breadfruit trees had been
placed aboard the Bounty. Bligh sailed from Tahiti westwards,
presumably to stay in warm latitudes to keep the trees healthy and also
to follow a course which would provide ample water. No possibility of a
mutiny was in his mind as he neared Tonga, when Christian, the mate,
and the mutineers, seized control of the ship, and Bligh, along with 18
others, were placed in an open boat in which they made the famous
voyage to Timor - 3618 miles - in 41 days.
seedless breadfruit was the cause of the mutiny, not, as is popularly
believed, Bligh's obsession for severe discipline. Owing to the
complexity of having to obtain root suckers and striking root cuttings
and potting them, the Bounty was forced to stay in Tahiti for longer
than it would have taken to gather seeds. Thus, the crew fell in love
with the Tahitian women and exquisite Tahiti, and it was their burning
wish to return there to stay that led to the mutiny.
As soon as
Bligh was dispossessed of his ship, Christian took the Bounty back to
Tahiti. The precious trees were flung out on the way. Lord Byron wrote
a poem about the incident which describes the seduction of the men by
Tahiti. He called it "The Island."
Young hearts, which languished for some sunny isle,
Where summer years and summer women smile;
Men without country, who, too long estranged,
Had found no native home, or found it changed,
And, half uncivilised, preferred the cave
Of some soft savage to the uncertain wave -
The gushing fruits that nature gave untilled,
The wood without a path but where they willed.
...the equal land without a lord;
The wish - which ages have not yet subdued
In man - to have no master save his mood.
who has read accounts of long sea voyages of the period, with their
risks of sickness and death, can feel sympathy for the mutineers, who
indeed had nothing to lose but their chains, as the saying goes. They
must also feel sympathy for William Bligh, who had tried to carry out a
difficult commission, which, after 18 months constant application, was
almost half over. He had secured the precious trees, and the equally
precious ship and crew were also safe.
At their trial, the
mutineers were represented by Fletcher Christian's brother, a professor
of Law, who based the defence on claims of Bligh's extreme, sadistic
cruelty. Such claims are not borne out by all existing evidence. Indeed
the log of the Bounty appears to show that Bligh was most solicitous
about his crew's welfare and health. The results of the trial were that
three mutineers were executed and Bligh's character was defamed.
returned to Tahiti in 1792 in the Providence. The fact that he was
prepared to take on this difficult task, which must have caused great
amusement among the Tahitians, is sad to reflect upon. It shows that he
was worthy of the great respect which Sir Joseph Banks had for him in
asking him again, to attempt it. The Providence expedition was entirely
successful, and Bligh himself planted a tree in St. Vincent in 1793
which still stands there in the botanical gardens almost 200 years old.
its introduction to the West Indies, breadfruit was not readily
accepted by the local people as a staple food - possibly because
cassava, bananas and beans were more familiar to the cooks, who had
built up a tradition from African, American and European sources. For
those Australians who have eaten good varieties of breadfruit at the
right stage of maturity and adequately cooked, the lack of immediate
popularity is puzzling. However, it seems that the breadfruit, given
time, conquers most prejudices against it, and it has distinct
advantages over some other carbohydrate foods. One of these is its
simplicity of preparation for eating, and another is its ready
Its precise date of introduction to Australia is
uncertain, but shortly after the founding of Darwin (1869), a Russian
botanist named Dr. Maurice Holtze took charge of the government gardens
at Doctor's Gully. He arranged for the introduction of many new plants
to the area, among them the breadfruit. These were planted in the
botanical gardens which he set up. It is possible that it may have
grown at the time of Victoria (Port Essington) which was founded in
1838, since it is mentioned among crops claimed to be growing there in
a prospectus for intending settlers. Indeed it is quite likely, as the
colony was very remote and its founders had to aim at self-sufficiency.