• By The Financial District

Breadfruit Comes To Shore Up Food Security In Hawaii

With about 3,850 kilometers to the nearest continent, Hawaii is one of the most isolated island chains in the world. When it comes to feeding its 1.41 million residents, the state spends up to $3 billion a year to import as much as 90 percent of its food, Kathleen Wong reported for Modern Farmer.

Photo Insert: 'Ulu or Breadfruit can be cooked any way a potato can—think chips, fries or mash. It can also be dried and ground into gluten-free flour.

Studies show that the issue isn’t a lack of agricultural land, but rather the fact that the islands grow way more exported commodities, such as coffee, and not enough food to feed the local population. As a result, essential groceries are costly—we’re talking $9 for a loaf of bread—contributing to one in nine people in Hawaii experiencing food insecurity.

Food insecurity was only exacerbated by the pandemic. And with climate change, the islands are facing greater threats from rising temperatures and rising oceans.

Something about Hawaii’s food system has to change. Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative and other advocates believe the solution can be found in a starchy crop called breadfruit, or ‘ulu in native Hawaiian.

While ‘ulu has indigenous roots in Hawaii, the organization says it’s underutilized and is pushing to make the fruit a staple in local diets. To do so, it first needs to decolonize Hawaii’s food system to benefit farmers and the greater public alike.

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For those unfamiliar, ‘ulu is what Dana Shapiro, a farmer, and general manager of Hawaiʻi ‘Ulu Cooperative, describes as “a big tropical tree potato.” Grown on trees, ‘ulu is a round or oval fruit with skin the shade of a tennis ball.

The plant thrives in tropical climates, where ‘ulu trees are not only an abundant and perennial producer but resilient to temperature and precipitation swings. According to the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, ‘ulu is a complete protein and a good source of complex carbohydrates with other nutrients, such as potassium, Vitamin C, and calcium.

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‘Ulu can be cooked any way a potato can—think chips, fries, or mash. It can also be dried and ground into gluten-free flour. In Hawaii, it’s commonly pounded into a poi-like paste. Once ripe, its flesh softens like a sweet custard and can be eaten raw for dessert.

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