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The breadnut (Brosimum alicastrum) is a Brosimum tree species under the Moraceae family of flowering plants, whose other genera include fig and mulberries. Other common names for the plant include the Maya nut and ramón (particularly in Spanish-speaking regions). The plant is also known by a range of names in indigenous Mesoamerican and other languages, including but not limited to: ojoche, ojite, ojushte, ujushte, ujuxte, capomo, mojo, ox, iximche and masica.
The breadnut fruit disperses on the ground in March and April and has a large seed covered by a thin, citrus-flavored orange-colored skin favored by a number of forest creatures. More importantly, the large seed which is enveloped by the tasty skin is an edible ‘nut’ that can be leached and ground into a meal for porridge or flat bread. Ramon is nutritious and has value as a food source, and formed a part of the diet of the pre-Columbian Maya of the lowlands region in Mesoamerica, although to what extent has been a matter of some debate among Maya historians and archaeologists.
It was planted by the Maya civilization two thousand years ago and it has been claimed to have been a staple food in the Maya diet, although other research has downplayed its significance. In the modern era it has been neglected as a source of nutrition and has often been characterised as a famine food.
Erika Vohman of The Equilibrium Fund has been promoting its use in Central America and is campaigning to save the rainforests where Maya Nut grows. For this work Vohman won the 2006 St Andrews Prize for the Environment worth $50,000. She has been working with rural and indigenous women teaching them to use Maya Nut to improve tropical rainforest conservation, reforestation, health and nutrition, food security, Women’s incomes, self-esteem and status, maternal health and infant birth weights. Since 2001 The Equilibrium Fund has trained over 7000 women from 312 villages in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. The St. Andrews Prize money is earmarked for expansion of the Maya Nut program to new regions in these countries.
The breadnut is extremely high in fiber, calcium, potassium, folic acid, iron, zinc, protein and vitamins A, E, C and B. The fresh seeds can be cooked and eaten or can be set out to dry in the sun to roast and eat later. Stewed the nut tastes like mashed potato, roasted it tastes like chocolate or coffee and can be prepared in numerous other dishes. In Petén, Guatemala, the breadnut is being cultivated for exportation and local consumption as powder, for hot beverages, and bread.
The tree can reach up to 45 meters (130 feet).
Categories: Moraceae | Edible nuts and seeds | Underutilized crops | Natural history of Mesoamerica | Agriculture in Mesoamerica