Breadfruit and Cocoa Tea in Saint Lucia

Island favorites you can make at home

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By David Hammond

Breadfruit came to the New World through the efforts of Captain Bligh, captain of the mutinous Bounty. The breadfruit was planned to be a cheap, plentiful food for slaves, who, as it turned out, didn't much care for the stuff. Breadfruit originated in the South Pacific, and so would not have been part of an African diet. Still, breadfruit was planted, and it took well to the climate.

In the Eastern Caribbean country of Saint Lucia, breadfruit is still readily available at many markets. Cruising the food stalls in the island's capital of Castries, I bought a medium-sized breadfruit for two dollars. My room at Capella Margot Bay Resort had a kitchen, so I took it upon myself to cook the damn thing.

I didn't have a recipe, and although I could easily have searched for one online, I had nothing but a knife, oven and a pan to work with, so I decided to improvise. I cut the breadfruit into two half-inch disks, quartered the disks, put them in the water-filled pan, and cooked them at 150 Celsius for about 45 minutes. They cooked up tender.

The breadfruit has firm white flesh, slightly stringy like jackfruit (to which it's related), with a taste somewhere between potato and squash. It's not at all unpleasant, though this dining experience would have been improved immensely with the addition of sauce and some protein. Still, it was as tasty as, you know, an unadorned potato or squash could be, and a good platform for other flavors.

For breakfast, I had maybe a half-pound of breadfruit and a cup of cocoa tea, which was probably the major culinary revelation of the trip: I liked it a lot. There's much spice in Saint Lucia, and mace, nutmeg, vanilla, and star anise – also found in many Saint Lucian spiced rums – are what you put in cocoa tea, which is basically spiced hot cocoa. No actual tea is involved.

Much as Oaxacan mole negro is spiced chocolate sauce, so cocoa tea is spiced hot chocolate. In retrospect, I'm a little surprised I hadn't run into this beverage before – it's such a natural combination of flavors. What grows together goes together, and chocolate grows in the same environment as these spices.  

To prepare cocoa tea, a nice lady at the Castries market told me to add the cocoa and spices to water, bring to a gentle boil, strain and add milk (you might want to reheat it again, just a little).

So, if you're looking for a wholesome and warming winter beverage, make hot chocolate, hold the candy cane and add Eastern Caribbean spices. For additional "warmth," give the brew a splash of St. Lucian rum.

Though breadfruit is not readily available in Chicago, it seems to be have turned up now and again Pete's Fresh Market locations.

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