As I was growing up in boreal Russia, I remember reading many children books about travel and adventures in exotic countries. One book was about a tropical island where bread grew on trees… it all sounded like a fairy tale.

But later I learned it was true! There is a real plant that is called breadfruit tree.

Ever since I switched to paleo diet a year ago, I have been dreaming of tasting breadfruit. It sounds like a perfect substitute for bread because it is a real fruit, whereas bread is made from grass seeds. Evolutionary reasoning suggests that plants, who don’t want their seeds to be eaten, should protect them as best as they can – for example, by loading them up with poisons. And that is what grasses do (read about lectins on Paleo Mom’s blog).

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Fruits, on the other hand, are something that plants want us to eat (typically, seeds are ingested with the fruit, but not digested, and when they are defecated out, the plant gets to disperse and a little bonus in the form of natural fertilizer, to boot). Breadfruit trees, thus, should be putting all kinds of wholesome and yummy nutrients in their fruits. And they do.

Yesterday, finally, my dream has come true. The Indian food store, patronized by my daughter-in-law got a shipment of breadfruits, and we have acquired one. I checked the Web for recipes, and it turns out breadfruit can be cooked in a variety of ways. I decided to follow the basic recipe of Helene Dsouza, except I omitted all spice apart from salt and a dash of vinegar, because I wanted to find out what the breadfruit itself tastes like. So, I started with the fruit:


peeled and quartered it


removed the core, cut it into chips, and soaked/marinated it in salted, vinegary water for about 30 minutes


and, finally, fried them in olive oil


Here’s what the final results looked like


As a result of my inexperience the chips are a bit too well done, so next time I will finish cooking as soon as they get to the golden brown stage.

I tasted the result with some trepidation. Over the last year I have tried a variety of tuber and root vegetables (cassava, taro, jicama), but I don’t see making any of them a staple (so I stick with potato, while occasionaly eating yams, carrots, and parsnips for variety). All of those exotic tubers had tastes that I found slightly unpleasant (if I grew up eating them I would probably feel otherwise, but I come from a potato-eating culture).

My experience with breadfruit was very different. It tastes great! It is like potato in that it is bland enough to serve as a base for a meal, when combined with a variety of other ingredients and spices. But it also has a distinctive and pleasant taste, so it is a true alternative to potato. If I only can find a reliable supply around here, I am going to make it a staple.

Now that I have tasted breadfruit, I find it highly ironic that the humanity consumes so much wheat bread, while eating so little breadfruit. How did we end up making poisonous grass seeds our most important food source, when we have so many alternative, much more healthful foods to choose from?!

Even more poignantly, why do pacific islanders eat bread, rather than breadfruit? In the next blog I will discuss such broader implications.

to be continued


All fotographs in this blog ©Peter Turchin

Published On: May 4, 2013

Peter Turchin

Peter Turchin

Curriculum Vitae

Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Currently he investigates a set of broad and interrelated questions. How do human societies evolve? In particular, what processes explain the evolution of ultrasociality—our capacity to cooperate in huge anonymous societies of millions? Why do we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations? Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural multilevel selection to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank project, which builds a massive historical database of cultural evolution that will enable us to empirically test theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories.

Turchin has published 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including a dozen in Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly cited researcher” by Turchin has authored seven books. His most recent book is Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth (Beresta Books, 2016).

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  • If you eat breadfruit and decide to add spices, be sure not to put on chili pepper. I have good reason to believe that capsaicin in it in synergism with a copper deficiency causes diabetes. I have published this in the 2008 Medical Hypotheses 71 p 323-324, entitled “Does capsaicin in chili cause diabetes?”. You may also see some discussion of this in .
    Sincerely, Charles Weber

    • Peter Turchin says:

      Charles, thank you for this link. Very interesting. Have you considered the possibility that it is cereals that are to blame? This actually feeds into my next blog.

      • Charles Weber says:

        Dear Peter Turchin,

                I am inclined to doubt if many grain grass plants put out and out poison into the grains. This doubt arises because most grass plants are difficult for animals to distinguish. If animals can not distinguish different species, there is little point to wasting sunlight on poisons because they will be eaten anyway. That is not to say that there are no disadvantageous substances in grass plants, there may be some. It is obvious that they can not be ruinous because quite a few people eat large amounts of grain and are still breathing. If I eat little grain, it is primarily because grains tend to be not nutritious. The plant puts as little potassium into the grain as possible, for instance, because it will shortly get all the potassium it needs from the soil. Of course refined grains are really hopeless in the matter of potassium. I am especially into potassium research because I came down with rheumatoid arthritis at an early age, probably from damage to my kidneys from bromine gas in a college chemistry lab. I was able to cure the arthritis with potassium supplements. I have been researching it ever since. If you or your friends decide to take potassium supplements to cure heart disease, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or hypertension, be sure that vitamin B-1 is adequate or it will make heart disease much worst (see ). These days I still have to take potassium supplements because my kidneys did not recover from the bromine (or at least so my doctors say from their tests). As a result I am still lingering on interminably (to put it into my daughter’s colorful, humorous words) while all my friends and associates are gone. So if you want to nibble on some grains, I say take a chance. Just instruct your widow to let me know how you made out.

                 You may see a list of some other articles about potassium and copper nutrition in .

                 Thank you for the bread fruit idea. I intend to try some. I will instruct Mary to let you know how I made out.


                                   Sincerely, Charles Weber.

  • karlfrost says:

    If you get a ripe breadfruit (when it is soft and you can stick your finger through it), it is incredibly sweet and tastes like vanilla pudding. They are quite abundant in Hawaii.

    a couple of thoughts on grains, diet, and evolution.

    At the moment, there are many people who are working with the idea that they are gluten intolerant and, by cutting bread and other forms of gluten out of their diet, they feel huge improvements in their health, with a big digestion problems experienced when they eat bread again. It seems frequent, strong enough and regular enough of an experience that it seems beyond placebo effect. There is probably some truth to it. On the other hand, i feel no difference and love eating pasta and good German bread, and this is also true for many. Chinese traditional medicine recognizes different constitutions where they recommend wheat or don’t.

    It seems like this could be a prime candidate for a gene culture coevolution story, much like milk tolerance. As you started having the spread of pastoralists consuming milk (a cultural innovation) genetic variants that had more tolerance for milk spread through these populations. If there was variation in ability to digest wheat, it seems inevitable that there would have been a similar process with wheat digestion. We did not, after all, stop genetically evolving once the holocene hit. We are still genetically evolving

    A complication is that we have also put wheat under very strong pressure for digestability amongst the communities that grow it, creating a coevolutionary process between agriculturalists and wheat.

    The case of south pacific Islanders or Aboriginal groups in far northern Canada eating bread, despite the obvious mismatch with their digestive systems, seems a good candidate case for the kinds of genetically dysfunctional dynamics that can happen through social learning processes. Usually when this is modeled, though, the model suggests genetically uniform humans in variable environments. It’s interesting to think of this mismatch of socially learned
    behavior and ecologically sensible behavior as arising because of genetic differences in human sub populations.

    • Dear Peter Turchin,
      You are correct in that people have considerable variability in what they can tolerate in food. Eating is very important to us, and my vote would be that every common food should be tested on primates against every possible important disease.
      It is not likely to happen though, because the medical profession considers nutrition as kind of hoaky. I would also like to see known poisons bred out of food. I would like to see capsaicin in chili peppers vs. a vs. diabetes placed high on the list. I am certain that the currently abysmal heath in our society would improve dramatically if these two things were done.
      Sincerely, Charles Weber

  • john lilburne says:

    the new scientist reportes that humans have about 26 genes for digesting starch compared to about 4 for other primates.

    It has been suggested that these genes are a product of recent culture/genecoevolution as they mostly have appeared due to agriculture.
    The problem appears to be as you get older , because the genes are a recent addition to the genome, they are prone to switching off after reproductive age….and because they are new genes there is enormous individual variation. …my wife although she is careful can eat lots of bread, whereas I suffer weight gain from eating the same quantity as she. Bread is far more of a problem to me than potatoes which tends to indicate that its not just the starch in bread but other factors that contribute.

  • Peter Turchin says:

    Thanks to all for these comments. I will be developing these themes in the next blog. Meanwhile, take a look at my previous blog The Dark Side of Cultural Evolution:

    where I discuss the effect of age.

  • Luda says:

    Why we do not eat breadfruit ? May be it does not grow in Russia ? And it can not be store over long period of time ?

    • Peter Turchin says:

      It does not grow in Russia (sigh). But it stores as well as wheat – you can make flour of it (and you can even buy breadfruit flour).

  • JayMan says:

    Growing up, breadfruit was frequently roasted at home. Never got around to eating it though…

  • O.Voron says:

    You made me curious to try breadfruit myself , which I did. Tastes nice, much better than I expected. Hard to find, though.

  • Phonia says:

    Breadfruit is very Popular in Jamaica, It is mostly eaten roasted with the national dish ackee & saltfish. Breadfruit is roasted in the skin and then peeled and sliced. It can be roasted full or ripe. When it roasted ripe it has a sweet taste. If there is a market for it, it can be imported to your country. It can also be boiled.

  • Phonia says:

    Its normally fried after it is roasted. Some persons prefer it that way, rather than roasting only. A lot of persons do not eat it boiled but they eat it when it is roasted. It can be boiled in peas soup. It also helps to thicken the soup for those who like their peas soup thick.

  • Marti says:

    I live in Jamaica and eat them all the time! You should try roasting it…that way you’ll get the real flavour of the fruit without added salt and vinegar.

  • Susannah Slocum says:

    Many people think that the breadfruit holds great promise for food security in resource scarce regions. I am working with a grassroots organization in Haiti and we are trying to use the breadfruit to create food security, reforestation and employment. For more information about our project check out our campaign:

  • Monika Minott says:

    I love roasted breadfruit it is my absolute favorite, I used to eat it alot when living in Jamaica when I was younger. It is best with akee and saltfish.

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