Year of Grace, Day 188. Tipuho — Batanes breadfruit

Although breadfruit is commonly eaten throughout the Pacific islands, I’ve only ever eaten it as a sweet, that is, in candied form, and it was usually made from rimas, Artocarpus altilis, the usual variety eaten in Manila.  In Batanes, there is a different species of breadfruit that is often enjoyed in savoury dishes. It’s known as tipuho in Batan Island, or chipuho in Itbayat.

Tipuho differs from rimas in that its leaves are whole, unlike the deeply dissected ones of rimas. Tipuho leaves are glossy and handsome, and are most commonly used to lay food on, or to wrap food in.

I love this Batanes specialty, yellow rice, coloured thus with fresh turmeric root, which imparts its own subtle, slightly gingery flavour. Not surprising as turmeric is related to ginger. The tipuho leaf on which it is laid makes this celebratory dish even more so and the yellow against the rich green is so appetizing.

I encountered tipuho again as a convenient food carrier.Camote chips on leaf croppedThe high latex content of the leaf keeps food — here, sweet potato fritters  — from spoiling and drying out. The fritters were made and wrapped by Eling, the gracious lady in whose house I ate; I stayed in the house across from hers (she had a full house), as in 2008 there were as yet no commercial accommodations in Itbayat. These scrumptious fritters were my lunch on the exceedingly rough 4-hour boat trip from Itbayat, the furthest inhabited island of the Philippines, back to Batan, the principal island of the Batanes group. On Itbayat, most people often carried their lunch elegantly wrapped thus. It reminded me of a similar Japanese tradition of wrapping food aesthetically with leaves.

Breadfruit tree w fruitsHere is the tree itself. Elmer Merrill, a botanist who surveyed Philippine flora during the American occupation (1988-1946), classified tipuho as Artocarpus blancoi. However he noted that it was not edible.

Here is a young, very ornamental tipuho tree on Itbayat Island. Some of the lower leaves have a few lobes, but the upper ones are undissected and entirely whole.

Tipuho fruits are evidently edible, as they are commonly sold as a food ingredient, often ready to use. And here are the tipuho fruits, whole, halved, and sold, already peeled and sliced, in bags. I bought a bag, ever curious about exotic food ingredients — I did not know then it was tipuho. Next to them are huge taro corms, which were recognizable as such, though much, much larger than the common taro from Luzon. These are perhaps Cyrtosperma species.

Here are the tipuho ready for slicing into bite-sized pieces, and off they go into a pot. The reddish orange segments call to mind their resemblance to the yellow ones of jackfruit (Artocarpus communis), a relative. Here they are being braised in coconut milk. The seeds are equally edible and taste nutty, rather like chestnuts.Later, when the tipuho was tender, slices of dried mahi mahi or dorado, known as arayu in the Ivatan language, were added. A first for me and it was superb!

I’ve been trying to ascertain tipuho’s scientific name, but only came across textual descriptions, no clear illustrations of the fruit, on Google. Websites devoted  to breadfruit are mainly of botanical, not gastronomic, interest, and show illustrations only of the tree or dried leaves. The most I could come up with is that tipuho is most likely descended from Artocarpus mariannensis, whose centre of origin is the Marianas Islands and grows wild on limestone and coral islands, mainly spread by fruit bats. Perhaps tipuho is a cross of A. mariannensis with rimas. None of the textual descriptions refer to reddish orange segments however; only to cream or yellow fruit segments. I would be grateful if someone were to enlighten me.

Different varieties of breadfruit are being promoted as a crop for food security as yields can reach from 5 to 10 tons per hectare. Quite competitive with cereal crops. And care and maintenance is minimal, unlike rice, and few pests and diseases. Pacific Islanders, who once relied on it as a staple, attribute their laid-back attitude to life to its ease of cultivation. It stores well too without refrigeration. Fermented, it lasts for months; dried, it can last for a year. The nuts can be dried and made into flour. There is definitely a lot of promise in this fruit tree, whose other uses are for glue (from its natural latex) and its trunk as building material for houses and canoes.