Breadfruit is edible at any later stage of development but it is essential to understand the different stages of fruit development and maturity, and harvest fruit at the optimal stage for the desired market or use. Fruit picked too green and still immature will have a longer shelf life than fruit harvested at the full mature stage but greener fruit is undesirable for most dishes and products.
Fruit generally reaches full mature size and develops maximum starch levels (creamy texture and full flavour) at 12-16 weeks (or longer in cooler environments) from the time the tiny fruit emerges from the end of the branch. The grower has a window of about 2-4 weeks during which an individual mature fruit can be harvested.
How can I tell when the breadfruit is ready for harvest?
The grower must rely upon a combination of visual cues, such as skin colour (deep-green to lighter green or yellow-green), scabbing on and around fruit sections and skin texture changes to determine when the breadfruit is mature. Natural cracks in the skin also begin dripping sap (Fig. 9). The Breadfruit Production and Agroforestry Guides provide a description of fruit development with photos and also fruit maturity indicators for the Ma’afala variety. Nature’s Way Manual describes fruit maturity and harvesting in the Fiji situation. Breadfruit at the stage of maturity desired for home consumption cannot be expected to last more than two days in the warm conditions of Fiji. For export, breadfruit has to be harvested at slightly less than full maturity which is described as mature green.
Figure 9: Sap as an indicator of maturity and sufficiently ripe Uto dina fruit being packed ready for export following HTFA quarantine treatment
The fruit must be harvested and handled carefully to avoid damage. Proper handling of the fruit will increase shelf life and fruit quality. The fruit is highly susceptible to bruising, which can cause discoloration of the skin and flesh, release of latex, bringing about ripening and decay. Harvesting, transport and storage are obviously activities where damage can occur. A significant portion of fruit on properly pruned trees can be harvested efficiently and safely from the ground without the use of tools. It is important to take into account safety requirements when harvesting breadfruit. Fallen fruit should not be used commercially because such fruit will have a shorter postharvest life and will be vulnerable to disease (but may be well suited to local food consumption or for livestock if unfit for human consumption).
Figure 10: (a) no exposure to sun; (b) 30mins exposure to sun; (c) 60mins exposure to sun; (d) extreme sun burning
Fruit must be kept in the shade as much as possible to avoid adding to field heat and sun burn damage. Harvesting fruit in the early morning hours helps to reduce field heat of harvested fruit. Figures 10a-d illustrate what happens when breadfruit are exposed to the sun for different lengths of time.
Containers for carrying and transporting harvested fruit need to be sturdy and well-ventilated, and allow for one layer of fruit (or two layers of fruit at most). Plastic crates are a good choice for field harvesting and brief storage periods (Fig. 11). Cardboard boxes with good ventilation can also be used. Polypropylene sacks are not acceptable as they do not allow for ventilation or for protection of the fruit from compaction.
Figure 11 Plastic crate used for transporting breadfruit