BREAD-FRUIT. This most important food staple of the tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean is the fruit of Artocarpus incisa (nat. ord. Moraceae). The tree attains a moderate height, has very large, acutely lobed, glossy leaves, the male flowers in spikes, and the female flowers in a dense head, which by consolidation of their fleshy carpels and receptacles form the fruit. The fruit is globular in shape, about the size of a melon, with a tuberculated or (in some varieties) nearly smooth surface. Many varieties of the tree are cultivated, the fruits of some ripening numerous seeds, which are eaten as chestnuts; but in the best kinds the seeds are aborted, and it is only these that are highly prized as vegetables. The tree is a native of the South Sea Islands, where its fruit occupies the important position that is held by cereals in temperate latitudes. The fruit, which on distinct varieties ripens at different periods, affording a nearly constant supply throughout the year, is gathered for use just before it ripens, when it is found to be gorged with starchy matter, to which its esculent value is due. It may be cooked and prepared for use in a great variety of ways, the common practice in the South Sea Islands being to bake it entire in hot embers, and scoop out the interior, which when properly cooked should have a soft smooth consistence, fibrous only towards the heart, with a taste which has been compared to that of boiled potatoes and sweet milk. Of this fruit A. R. Wallace, in his Malay Archipelago, says: “With meat and gravy it is a vegetable superior to anything I know either in temperate or tropical countries. With sugar, milk, butter or treacle it is a delicious pudding, having a very slight and delicate but characteristic flavour, which, like that of good bread and potatoes, one never gets tired of.” In the Pacific Islands the fruit is preserved for use by storing in pits, where the fruits ferment and resolve themselves into a mass similar in consistency to new cheese, in which state they emit an offensive odour; but after baking under hot stones they yield a pleasant and nutritious food. Another and more common method of preserving the fruit for use consists in cutting it into thin slices, which are dried in the sun. From such dried slices a flour is prepared which is useful for the preparation of puddings, bread and biscuits, or the slices are baked and eaten without grinding. The tree yields other products of economic value, such as native cloth from the fibrous inner bark of young trees; the wood is used for canoes and articles of furniture; and a kind of glue and caulking material are obtained from the viscid milky juice which exudes from incisions made in the stem.
Artocarpus incisa, the Bread-fruit tree.
Fig. 1. Branch reduced about a 6th natural size, with cuneate-ovate pinnatifid leaves, male flowers in a club-shaped deciduous catkin, and female flowers in rounded clusters.
Fig. 2. Transverse section of the male spike with numerous flowers.
The bread-fruit is found throughout the tropical regions of both hemispheres, and its first introduction into the West Indies is connected with the famous mutiny of the “Bounty,” and the remarkable history of a small company of the mutineers at Pitcairn Island. Attention was directed to the fruit in 1688 by Captain Dampier, and later by Captain Cook, who recommended its transplantation to the West Indian colonies. In 1787 the “Bounty” was fitted out under command of Lieutenant William Bligh (q.v.) to proceed to Tahiti to carry plants thence to the West Indian Islands; and it was after the cargo had been secured and the vessel was on her way that the mutiny broke out, and Lieutenant Bligh and some of his crew were turned adrift in a small boat in the open sea. The mutineers returned with the vessel to Tahiti, whence a number of them, with a few native men and women, sailed to the desolate and lone islet of Pitcairn. Lieutenant Bligh ultimately reached England, and was again commissioned to undertake the work of transplanting the plants, which in the year 1792–1793 he successfully accomplished.
A somewhat similar but inferior fruit is produced by an allied species, the Jack or Jak, Artocarpus integrifolia, growing in India, Ceylon and the Eastern Archipelago. The large fruit is from 12 to 18 in. long by 6 to 8 in. in diameter, and is much eaten by the natives in India. This tree is chiefly valuable on account of its timber, which has a grain very similar to mahogany, and although at first light-coloured it gradually assumes much of the appearance of that wood.