Breadnut trees, or Ramóns, may well be the most potentially useful and important of all the plants considered in this book. But before we look at why, let's make sure we can identify this amazing tree when we meet it, for its appearance is fairly humdrum.

This member of the Fig Family can grow into a big tree. In the picture on the next page notice how the veins of its simple, dark green, leathery leaves form a "herringbone pattern."


The thing is, the yellowish, spherical flower heads in the above picture produce the extremely nutritious -- high in calcium, fiber, iron, folate, potassium and antioxidants -- tasty, easy-to-preserve, nutlike fruits shown below.


The fruit's hard, nutlike body is encased in a warty skin that's orange when mature. That covering is mildly sweet and not bad to eat, but the main eating is in the nut part.

Breadnut nuts to eatIn Chiapas and Guatemala I've been in Maya communities where Ramón fruits were eaten with relish. They'd boil them in water in which they'd added wood ashes to soften the fruits. The finished products are shown at the right.

I've also seen the fruits boiled in salt water, then roasted and sold as a good-tasting snack. In Chiapas I've roasted the fruits, ground them with a hand-turned corn grinder, and made extraordinarily good-tasting "coffee." You can also make bread from them that is many times more nutritious than Mexico's Bimbo white bread.

However, here in the Yucatan I haven't found many Maya eating the fruits. Maya country folks think of the tree mainly as producing leaves and stems that their livestock love to eat, and which is very nutritious for them. Old records show that the fruits were very important to the ancient Maya, especially because they could be stored in dry places for long periods of time. If the corn and bean crops failed, always there was Ramón. This tree should be planted throughout the world's tropics wherever people, livestock and wildlife need food.