Readers familiar with Lt Bligh’s ill-fated voyage* to Tahiti on HMS Bounty in 1789 may recall that his mission was to collect breadfruit plants. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well, although Bligh did manage to bring the fruit to the West Indies on a more successful trip two years later.
While breadfruit - sometimes referred to as a 'tree potato' - grows in tropical regions around the world and is now a staple in some parts of the Caribbean and Central America, it has not (yet) however, become a household name in North America, notes Santa Monica-based startup Tasty Jungle, which is hoping to introduce Americans to the tropical fruit via a pantry staple: pasta.
Launching direct to consumer this fall on tastyjungle.com, Tasty Jungle pasta features breadfruit flour from the milled unripe fruit as its #1 ingredient (ingredients: organic breadfruit flour, tapioca starch, red lentil flour, xanthan gum).
While ripe breadfruits are sweet, unripe breadfruits (the kind Tasty Jungle is using) are starchy and neutral-tasting, said co-founder Megan Robertson, a yoga instructor-turned food entrepreneur who is also developing other products featuring breadfruit launching early next year.
While the brand's gluten-free credentials are listed at the top of the reverse side of the pack, the front is deliberately clean and simple, said Robertson, who discovered breadfruit during a trip to Hawaii and started to look into its nutritional profile and culinary potential.
"We didn't want to be one of those products that just lists everything the food doesn't have."
Women aged 20-40 - particularly those looking for grain-free options - are a key target audience, but the pasta is designed to appeal to anyone looking for more options in the pasta set, she said.
Strong bite, neutral taste, complete protein, low-GI, and grain-free
Unlike some gluten-free pastas, Tasty Jungle’s breadfruit pasta has a strong bite/chew (no mush) and neutral flavor, critical attributes for pasta lovers, said Robertson, who also became intrigued by breadfruit's sustainability credentials (the fast-growing, high-yielding perennial trees require far less labor, fertilizer and pesticides than crops such as rice and wheat).
Her breadfruit pasta has a similar macronutrient profile to wheat pasta (40g carbs, 7g protein and 2g fiber per 2oz serving vs 42g, 7g and 3g respectively for Barilla wheat penne), but is grain-free, and has some interesting nutritional properties, said Robertson, who studied nutrition science at college and was struck by the fact that breadfruit protein is considered a complete protein (containing meaningful levels of all the essential amino acids).
Recent research led by Susan Murch at the University of British Columbia published in Plos One (July 2020) also suggests that breadfruit flour has a low glycemic index and is more digestible than wheat flour (according to a 2015 study by the same team, a Samoan cultivar called Ma’afala contains significantly higher total essential amino acid content than other varieties, and higher-quality protein than corn, wheat, rice, potato, pea and even soy).
"Flour produced from breadfruit is a gluten-free, low glycemic index, nutrient-dense and complete protein option for modern foods." Ying Liu, doctoral student, University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus, July 2020)
The go-to-market strategy
Robertson - who worked with a product development consultancy to fine tune the recipe but came up with her own branding and packaging designs - gained feedback from around consumers before finalizing the recipe. The product - using breadfruit flour sourced in southeast Asia - is manufactured by a co-packer in Oregon with the first production run of 10,000 packs scheduled for mid-October.
The launch price - at $27.99 for a four-pack - is not cheap, but will come down as the company scales, said Robertson, who says the price will need to be lower ($3.99-$4.99/pack) when she approaches bricks and mortar retailers further down the road.
As for funding, Robertson is now in advanced negotiations with a first-stage investor to support the launch, but has thus far funded the endeavor herself (along with her husband).
* In 1789, Lt. William Bligh headed from England to the South Pacific on HMS Bounty to collect breadfruit and other plants on a voyage backed by the botanist Sir Joseph Banks. His mission was to transport the plants to the West Indies for propagation as a cheap food for slave laborers working on sugar plantations.
Famously, Bligh was unceremoniously deprived of his ship by his second in command (Fletcher Christian) and dumped into a lifeboat with 18 crew members, but managed to sail 3,618-miles to safety in Timor - an astonishing feat of navigation - and survive to tell his tale. Bligh returned to England and sailed again to Tahiti, this time successfully transporting breadfruit trees to the West Indies.
According to a 2015 GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) notification (GRN 596) for breadfruit flour (dried and milled breadfruit flesh - no seeds, no peel) from the Plant Secondary Metabolite Analytical Research Team (PlantSMART) Labs at the University of British Columbia, breadfruit is one of 35 crops identified by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as an underutilized crop with the potential to improve food security.