All about the Hawaiian staple breadfruit (ulu)

Breadfruit, or ulu as it is called in Hawaii, is a shining star among Hawaiian crops that is largely unknown to mainland chefs. Nutritionally, it is a complete protein with all of the essential amino acids, is a good source of complex carbohydrates and contains such minerals as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and more.

Chefs of Hawaii are interested in breadfruit as an alternative to common starch foods like rice and potatoes, says Noel Dickinson, coordinator for the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai. “Aside from being very nutritious, it is gluten-free, so it’s a comparatively healthy starch.”

Outside of Hawaii, breadfruit grows in limited quantities in Florida. Breadfruit that is processed, steamed, frozen or made into flour is available for purchase through Hawaii Ulu Cooperative or from markets that specialize in Caribbean fruits and vegetables, according to Dickinson.

Since breadfruit is still firm in texture even when ripened, it is often boiled, steamed or baked and cut up like a potato. It can also be sliced to make chips or candied. As it matures further, the fruit becomes creamy and sweet and can be cooked like a pancake with no added ingredients.

ACF Chef and restaurateur Peter Merriman predicts that 25 years from now, breadfruit will be common throughout the world as a climate-friendly crop. “It’s nutritious, but also the tree withstands drought as well as too much rain; it’s a hearty tree in the midst of climate change,” he says.

On his menu, he likes to roast breadfruit whole and mix it in with mashed potatoes. He also likes to mash cooked breadfruit and stuff it inside ravioli and serve with mushroom truffle sauce, he says. Ulu and leek soup (see Recipe) is another application at his four Merriman’s restaurants.

Breadfruit is also dried and made into gluten-free flour, called ulu flour. It’s something that Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka, owner of MW Restaurant in Honolulu, reaches for when she makes cheesecake graham cracker pie crust.

Click here for Chef Merriman’s Ulu and Leek soup recipe.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of National Culinary Review. Click here to read the issue.