Breadfruit (Artocarpus incises) is a species of flowering tree in the mulberry family growing throughout Southeast Asia and most Pacific Ocean islands. The term “breadfruit” is from the Greek words artos (bread) and karpos (fruit). The fruit’s name comes from the fact that when cooked, it gives off a fragrance reminiscent of fresh baked bread.2
The ancestors of the Polynesians found the Breadfruit trees growing in the northwest New Guinea area around 3500 years ago. They gave up rice cultivation and raised Breadfruit wherever they went in the Pacific except Easter Island and New Zealand, which were too cold. Their ancient eastern Indonesian cousins spread the plant throughout Southeast Asia.
As a very interesting historical side-note, the late-18th-century quest for cheap, high-energy food sources for British slaves prompted colonial administrators to introduce the Breadfruit plant to the Caribbean. In 1787 William Bligh was appointed Captain of the HMS Bounty ( of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame), and remained in Tahiti for five months during which over 1000 Breadfruit plants were collected, potted and transferred to the ship. Bligh escaped an unsuccessful mutiny attempt on his life when the ship’s crew saw their dwindling water rations used to water the plants. In1791 Bligh commanded a second expedition which collected live breadfruit plants in Tahiti and transported these to Jamaica and other islands in the West Indies. Although Bligh won the Royal Society medal for his efforts, the introduction was not entirely successful because the slaves refused to eat breadfruit.
The world’s largest collection of hundreds of breadfruit varieties has been established by botanist Diane Ragone, from over 20 years’ travel to 50 Pacific islands, on a 10-acre plot outside of Hana, Hawaii, on the isolated east coast of Maui.
Breadfruit trees are tall, growing to a height of 85 feet. The large and thick leaves are deeply cut into pinnate lobes. The grapefruit-sized ovoid fruit has a rough surface and originates from 1,500-2,000 flowers which are visible on the skin of the fruit as hexagon-like disks. Breadfruit is one of the highest-yielding food plants, with a single tree producing up to from 50 to 200 fruits per season.
Because breadfruit trees usually produce large crops at certain times of the year, preservation of the harvested fruit is an issue. Most breadfruit varieties also produce a small number of fruits throughout the year, so fresh breadfruit is always available, but somewhat rare when not in season. One traditional preservation technique is to bury peeled and washed fruits in a leaf-lined pit where they ferment over several weeks and produce a sour, sticky paste. So stored, the product may last a year or more, and some pits are reported to have produced edible contents more than 20 years later. Fermented breadfruit mash goes by many names such as mahr, ma, masi, furo, andbwiru.
Breadfruit is a staple food in many tropical regions. They are very rich in starch, and before being eaten they are roasted, baked, fried, boiled or further processed into a variety of other foods. When cooked the taste is described as potato-like, or similar to fresh-baked bread. Breadfruit can be substituted for other starchy staples like potato in most recipes. Pickled breadfruit is especially popular, with cubes of cooked breadfruit steeped in cucumber, lime and fresh pepper pickle.3 A common product is a mixture of cooked or fermented breadfruit mash mixed with coconut milk and baked in banana leaves. Whole fruits can be cooked in an open fire, then cored and filled with other foods such as coconut milk, sugar and butter, cooked meats, or other fruits. The filled fruit can be further cooked so that the flavor of the filling permeates the flesh of the breadfruit. The Hawaiian staple food called poi made of mashed taro root is easily substituted or augmented with mashed breadfruit, with the resulting “breadfruit poi”. It is eaten in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Malaysia, India and Belize.
Breadfruit is roughly 25% carbohydrates and 70% water. It contains many healthy nutrients: vitamins B1,B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C, E, K, sodium, zinc, copper, selenium, iron, potassium, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.4
Breadfruit was widely and diversely used among Pacific Islanders. Its lightweight wood was used as timber for structures and outrigger canoes. The wood of the breadfruit tree was one of the most valuable timbers in the construction of traditional houses in Samoan architecture. Its wood pulp can also be used to make paper, called breadfruit tapa. All parts of the tree yield latex, a milky juice, which is useful for boat caulking.
Breadfruit is used in traditional medicine to treat illnesses that range from sore eyes to sciatica, It has been studied to treat taeniasis (a digestive tract infection caused by tapeworms) , sore eyes, sciatica, toothaches, enlarged spleen, fractures, gout, low urine output, and rheumatism. Because it contains potassium, Breadfruit is thought to improve nerve and muscle function and reduces confusion, irritability and fatigue. It is also thought to help lower the risk of heart problems and high blood pressure, and in normalizing blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. It is believed to prevent frequent colds and infections, slow aging, and lower the risk of some cancers by improving the immune system and preventing damage to cells.4 Dermatologically, it has been used to treat skin infections, boils, and burns. However, controlled clinical trials are needed before conclusions can be drawn regarding breadfruit for any health condition.2
Four recent studies have documented the skin lightening effects of Breadfruit and its mechanism of action.
The inhibitory effects of methanol extracts of heartwood of 23 Papua New Guinean wood species on tyrosinase activity were examined by Shimizu in 1998 in Japan. The extract of Artocarpus incisus showed the strongest tyrosinase inhibitory activity, which was equivalent to that kojic acid. The extract apparently inhibited melanin biosynthesis of cultured B16 melanoma cells without any cytotoxicity and in the back of a brown guinea pig without skin irritation. Thus, the usefulness of the extracts of heartwood of A. incisus both as a skin whitening agent and as a remedy for disturbances in pigmentation was evident. 5
In Shimizu’s later 2002 study, an efficient lightening effect was observed following topical application of artocarpin from Breadfruit to UV-stimulated hyperpigmented dorsal skins of brown guinea pigs. 6
The aim of the study by Donsing published 2008 was to clarify the melanogenesis-inhibitory and antioxidant activity of Thai Breadfruit’s heartwood extract for application as a skin-lightening agent. was evaluated for tyrosinase-inhibitory, melanogenesis-inhibitory, and antioxidant activities. The tyrosinase-inhibitory results obtained for the ether extract of artocarpin was an IC50 value was 10.26 +/- 3.04 microg/ml, compared to kojic acid with an IC50 of 7.89 +/- 0.18 microg/ml. The A. incisus extract was able to decrease the melanin production of the melanocyte B16F1 cells. The extract did not change the cell morphology, but reduced the melanin content by inhibiting melanin synthesis, whereas the purified artocarpin caused changes in cell morphology. Additionally, the extract exhibited antioxidant activity in a dose-dependent manner. Thus, the study results indicated that the ether extract of A. incisus ‘s heartwood has the potential of acting as a skin-lightening agent for application in cosmetics.7
The 2011study by Buranajaree was conducted to determine the in vivo depigmenting efficacy of a Breadfruit nanoemulsion. The extract from heartwood of Artocarpus incisus was formulated into nanoemulsions containing artocarpin in an amount of 44.5 ± 0.1% w/w. The extract exhibited melanogenesis inhibition with an IC(50) value of 30.2 ± 2.4 mg/ml, while kojic acid exhibited an IC(50) of 51.4 ± 5.1 mg/ml. After 6 weeks of topical treatment with the Breadfruit nanoemulsion, a strongly visible decrease in hyperpigmentation was observed in the UVB-stimulated hyperpigmented dorsal skin of mice. The applied areas returned to their original color after treatment was stopped for 4 weeks.8
In 2011 Earth Mother Botanicals launched their “Soca Breadfruit” four-step facial line including a facial scrub, a clay masque, a toner, and a moisturizing cream with Breadfruit leaves and pomegranate. Other companies should take note of the proven skin lightening effects of Breadfruit in cosmeceuticals.
- Planta Med.1998 Jun;64(5):408-12.The inhibitory components from Artocarpus incisus on melanin biosynthesis. Shimizu K, Kondo R, Sakai K, Lee SH, Sato H.Department of Forest Products, Faculty of Agriculture, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan. firstname.lastname@example.org
6)Planta Med. 2002 Jan;68(1):79-81.The skin-lightening effects of artocarpin on UVB-induced pigmentation. Shimizu K, Kondo R, Sakai K, Takeda N, Nagahata T.Department of Forestry and Forest Products Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan. email@example.com
7)J Cosmet Sci. 2008 Jan-Feb;59(1):41-58.Evaluation of the effect of Thai breadfruit’s heartwood extract on melanogenesis-inhibitory and antioxidation activities. Donsing P, Limpeanchob N, Viyoch J.Department of Pharmaceutical Technology, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Naresuan University, Phitsanulok, 65000 Thailand
8)J Cosmet Sci. 2011 Jan-Feb;62(1):1-14.Depigmenting action of a nanoemulsion containing heartwood extract of Artocarpusincisus on UVB-induced hyperpigmentation in C57BL/6 mice.