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The Nutritious, Gluten-Free Breadfruit

Peeling the charred skin from a roasted breadfruit. Once cooked, the fruit smells and tastes like freshly baked bread. Photo by Jack Wolford

Depending on when it’s picked, breadfruit can taste like an artichoke, a potato or a sweet, soft bread. Eaten as a starchy staple, the fruit is gluten free and easily milled into flour— expanding the range of starchy options for people who have celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten. Breadfruit can be baked, steamed, coal-roasted, boiled, pickled or candied, added to soups, stews, curries and salads, mashed into pancakes or added to bread—and it makes killer French fries. 

The fruit’s creamy white or yellow flesh is packed with complex carbohydrates, including fiber, which means it causes less of a spike in blood sugar levels compared with white rice, white potatoes or white bread. There’s very little fat in breadfruit, less than a gram in a typical 1-cup serving, and that fat is unsaturated, so better for our health.

Although breadfruit doesn’t have a lot of protein, it’s about double the amount in white rice or potatoes, and that protein contains all nine essential amino acids (levels vary depending on the variety). Breadfruit also provides potassium, magnesium and other minerals. It can be high in Vitamin C, with up to 29g per 100g serving. Small amounts of carotenoids—compounds thought to help eye health, like beta-carotene and lutein—are in breadfruit too.

Compared to rice, corn and wheat, breadfruit efficiently produces much more food on the same footprint of land: One tree can yield a staggering 800 pounds a year, for 50 years—no replanting necessary. Cup for cup, it has significantly more calories than rice, potatoes or corn. All this makes breadfruit an ideal crop for regions where hunger is severe.

Stacking Up the Starches

Here’s how breadfruit compares to white potatoes and white rice, nutrition-wise. The amounts below are per 100-gram serving (about ½ cup raw breadfruit, ½ cooked large russet potato, and 2/3 cup cooked white rice). Amounts are in grams (g), milligrams (mg) and micrograms (µg), depending on the nutrient.

*Raw breadfruit data averaged by the University of Hawai’i Agricultural Diagnostic Service Center from three varieties: Ma’afala, Hawaiian ‘Ulu, and Meinpadahk.
**Data for medium-grain unenriched cooked white rice and cooked white potato (with skin) from USDA’s Food Data Central
*** Vitamin C content for raw breadfruit can vary widely, probably due to the time between collection of fruit and analysis and the effects of storage and shipping. The USDA data for raw breadfruit shows significant Vitamin C levels of 29 mg per 100g.