‘Ulu connects young and old in tale about Pele


Several months ago the Aging Matters column highlighted an article written by a University of Hawaii Manoa student as a part of the course “Middle Age and Aging” in the Family and Consumer Sciences Department. This month features another of the award-winning articles from that course and was written by Christina Kaleiwahea who is working to earn a master’s degree in finance and is employed as an accountant. Her long-term career goal is to start and manage education-focused charitable endowments that support the connection of keiki, kupuna, and ‘aina of Hawaii.

Mo’olelo or stories that are passed along many generations continue to teach us how to connect with our kupuna (elders). In one such mo’olelo, “The Breadfruit Offering,” an elderly woman receives breadfruit from a generous young girl. She does not realize this kupuna is Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. Later in the story, “the lava flowed over Ka’u district and destroyed many homes but spared the house and family of the kind-hearted girl.”

This mo’olelo of well-being shared between the old and young interestingly places a special emphasis on ‘ulu or breadfruit. As a historical staple crop in Hawaii, our ancestors knew the significance of ‘ulu. Today, modern science confirms how vital it can be in facilitating health in later life, particularly as an alternative to white rice that is so commonly consumed in the islands.

Why ‘ulu is important

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture encourages the consumption of ‘ulu over white rice and other empty carbs. In fact, HIDOA found it to have 18 times the amount of fiber and nearly double the amount of protein despite having similar levels of carbohydrates. Additionally, ‘ulu contains plant pigments called lutein and zeaxanthin that have been shown to support eye health. According to a study by Dr. Abdel-Aal and colleagues cited in the U.S. National Libray of Medicine, 6 mg per day of lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. ‘Ulu has a healthy 48 mg per cup making it an excellent source at any age, but especially in mid to later life.

Where to buy ‘ulu

If you or your loved ones aren’t growing breadfruit, you can buy the fruit raw or in a prepared dish. Many farmers in Maui County carry the fruit if you want to incorporate it into your cooking. Supermarkets that carry locally grown produce and products often carry items such as ‘ulu hummus, and pies (yes, pies!) These creations will be sure to inspire you to find different ways to invite ‘ulu into your life.

How to prepare ‘ulu

Because breadfruit can be consumed at different levels of ripeness (much like bananas), it can be used to prepare a number of dishes such as savory fries to sweet cakes. At early stages of ripeness, ‘ulu has a potato-like quality that can satisfy the palate of those who enjoy a lot of starch in their diets without spiking blood sugar. ‘Ulu has the added bonus of being gluten-free and naturally sweet in its softer, ripe stage which makes it a good alternative to processed wheat when preparing desserts.

One easy dish to prepare at home is ‘ulu chips. Simply slice the fruit, coat it with seasoned olive oil, and bake it in the over at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. You can get creative with the seasoning by adding turmeric or paprika in addition to pepper and sea salt.

To learn more about ‘ulu, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and Hawaii ‘Ulu Cooperative are recommended sources. Both offer great recipes ideas (including poi and pizza!). The department also provides additional nutrition information. The ‘Ulu Cooperative website shares the most comprehensive and updated information on where to purchase ‘ulu.

‘Ulu was a sustaining crop as it voyaged and proliferated across the Pacific alongside our ancestors. It has declined with the introduction of white rice in recent times. But you can do your part to bring it back, which will support local farmers and improve your personal health. We should follow the wisdom of Pele’s food choice in her old age that connected her to the younger generation. For with the revitalization of ‘ulu, social and physical health across the ages will follow. Let’s all make it our kuleana (responsibility) to grow our individual and communal well-being by learning more about ‘ulu.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Saturday of each month.


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