Mānoa Heritage Center

ʻUlu Can Save the World

By Aunty ʻUlu, Helen Nakano

To celebrate Lā Honua (Earth Day) we are highlighting the versatility and world-saving powers of ʻUlu (breadfruit) and reached out to our own Aunty ʻUlu, Helen Nakano. A longtime resident of Mānoa Valley, Helen is a champion and steward of the valley. A dear friend, MHC Board Member, and docent, she is the co-founder and current advisor of Mālama Mānoa and an active member of Be Ready Manoa, Blue Zones Project, and part of Mānoa Neighborhood Security Watch. Helen is also the creative mind behind Hanafuda Hawai’i Style and Hanafuda Nā Pua Hawaii.

I’ve been enamored with the ʻulu ever since I learned about its incredible productivity from experts like Dr. Diane Ragone, founder of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kaua‘i and Heidi Bornhorst, a native plants expert. Breadfruit trees mature quickly, are capable of producing 100-300 lbs. of fruit annually and have a lifespan of about 60 years. If people everywhere in these islands would plant ʻulu, we could solve hunger in Hawaii. Imagine!

So, five years ago, my son Jason planted a baby ‘ulu for me in our backyard. To guarantee thriving plant development we followed proper protocol, according to the Hawaiian moon calendar, provided by Uncle Bruce Keaulani and Kahale Unciano of Living Life Source Foundation.  I chanted a prayer for the little tree’s good health, “E Ola, e Ulu”. Finally, for added insurance, we buried a huge ahi head from Yama’s Fish Market, under the two-foot sapling.

Today, my ‘ulu tree is everything it was hyped up to be. The tree is prolific. The fruit is more nutritious than potato and versatile. We steam, boil, bake and fry the fruit for curries and stews, salads, dips, and chips. Its large leaves are deep glossy green, its branches heavy with swollen ‘ulu, spread wide and low to provide shade from the afternoon sun for my grandchildren.  ‘Ulu is indeed an amazing tree.

Cumin-Spiced ʻUlu and Tomatoes Recipe from Aunty ʻUlu

1 pound parboiled ‘ulu, peeled and cut into cubes
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground ‘ōlena (turmeric)
1 can diced tomatoes 
2 tbsp chopped cilantro 
12 to 15 curry leaves

  1. Peel ʻulu and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Put the cubes in a large pot and cover with cold water.
  3. Add a tablespoon each of salt and ʻōlena (turmeric) and bring it to a boil.
  4. Lower the heat and simmer until tender, approximately 20 minutes total. Drain.
  5. Heat oil in a large lidded pot
  6. Add mustard seeds, cover the pan, and cook until the seeds stop popping like popcorn, about 1 minute.
  7. Remove from heat briefly to quickly add whole cumin seeds, cook until they turn reddish-brown, about 1 more minute.
  8. Toss in parboiled ʻulu, salt, sugar, ground cumin, coriander, cayenne, and turmeric. Cook for about 1 minute.
  9. Add tomatoes with liquid, 1 cup of water, cilantro, and curry leaves.
  10. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover.
  11. Simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
  12. Remove lid and cook about 7-10 more minutes until sauce thickens. Enjoy!

ʻUlu Resources:

  • The Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden has guides for cooking with and growing ʻulu
  • Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Cooperative sells ʻulu fruit and provides delicious recipes
  • ʻUlu Mana is a local company that makes delicious ʻulu chips and ʻulu hummus
  • ʻUlu and Kalo Bakery is a local bakery that focuses on ʻulu (and kalo) as the basis of their delicious and healthy treats

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  1. JoLinda Susilo says:

    Thank you for this beautiful article. I am very interested in planting a breadfruit tree in my own yard as well as donating breadfruit trees! Is there a farmer or someone passionate about breadfruit trees somewhere on the island who would accept a donation of breadfruit trees.