A colleague recently asked if I knew breadfruit, “yeah man!” I enthused. “How come Richard didn’t know anything about this delicious food” Mrs Kennedy asked. I told Mrs Kennedy that posh Nigerians don’t eat breadfruit and Richard is an original Lagos boy. Breadfruit in Nigeria is seen as poor people’s food, we choose food based on economic status and not necessarily for their nutritional values.
Breadfruit – gbere or jaloke as we call it in southwest grow easily as in many tropical countries. Mrs Kennedy thought we were missing out on a very important staple if Nigerians see it as poor people’s food. She talked about variety of ways in which breadfruit can be enjoyed. Folks in Hawaii and the Caribbean eat breadfruit as main meal as well as for snacks, it is perfect substitute for rice, yam, cassava, pasta etc. A brief online search confirms a lot of what Mrs Kennedy said. She is Jamaican who is passionate about West Africa but could not understand why breadfruit isn’t popular staple food in Nigeria.
In my region, we eat breadfruit the same way as yam, mostly we pound it so it gives the same texture as pounded yam – goes well with meat or fish stew of choice. Some people fry or roast it but it has never gained the same popularity as yam. Lots of farmers around Ile-Ife villages grow breadfruit and are abundant in season, also cheaper than the price of yams.
Would Nigerians change their habit towards breadfruit if they are aware of the nutritional benefits? I have done nutritional comparisons here between our much sought-after yams and breadfruits.
My family first tried breadfruit in early 1980s, because it was a cheaper substitute for yam. The first time my mother brought a few home, she was confronted with disbelief, she explained it was in season and a third of the price of yam, so everyone thought it’s worth the try. We all enjoyed the pounded breadfruit from the first try, and from then on, we were converts. We realised it was a lot easier to pound than yam so my mother started her very own pounded breadfruit business aka iyan gbere/ iyan jaloke. My mother and older sister pound breadfruits in the evenings, after which my other older sister and I hawk it around the neighbourhood. It was on a small-scale, enough for 30 adults to eat. Within days we gained dedicated customers who wait for us in the evenings, all they had to do was make their stew and we’d supply warm iyan gbere, it was a great experience. The income in the evenings made huge difference to our livelihood, it was an additional income she didn’t thought was possible. The business went on for about three seasons before my parents moved back to the village.
My 23 year old niece who was born and lived in Lagos all her life could not say she has ever tasted breadfruit, she said her neighbour had it in their garden because it provides nice shade but the fruits usually fell on the ground collecting flies. She agrees that it is class issue and perhaps fuelled by the fact that its nutritional benefits were not widely known.
Other benefits of breadfruit that are too good to be ignored by Nigerians: There are lots of benefits of breadfruit both the tree and the fruits, I am only going to talk about two of them.
– Timber: Used in building constructions, carved bowls, boats and many more. Breadfruit wood is resistant to termites (this is intriguing given we have lots of termites’ constant invasion)
– Mosquito repellant: Dried male flowers when burnt serves as repellant for mosquitoes and other insects. In 2102 a group of researchers at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Canada conducted a study that confirms that breadfruit male flowers contain undecanoic, caprice and lauric acids. The study shows that these compounds are significantly more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET (active ingredient in insects repellant).
My question for us Nigerians is, why aren’t our roads paved with breadfruit trees? Male flowers being deterrent to mosquitoes alone is worth the efforts. It is unlikely to stop mosquitoes at source but at least having natural ingredients to burn around the house as opposed to chemical-based Raid is an excellent start. 97% of Nigerians are at risk of malaria due to mosquito bites, South West Nigeria has the highest rate of malaria case in the country with the lowest being South East.
In recent years, Nigeria government now has turned attention into bringing back the lost glory of agriculture in the country. A few years ago a group working on eradication of world hunger met with our ex-president, Olusegun Obasanjo on his invitation and shared valuable information on how beneficial breadfruit to sorting out the end world hunger drive. Our ex president now has several hundreds of the plants in his farm, the plan was to distribute the fruits to the locals in need. This is a bit unsettling, why distributing breadfruits for free to the locals? Why not go further by educating the population of the benefits of breadfruit as a perfectly good alternative to yam and cheaper one at that. Why not encourage more farmers to take on the production of breadfruit. Radio, TV, social media are all perfectly good avenues to blow horns and in time Nigerians will get the message. Please, Baba let us use the knowledge we have to help the citizens.