Chestnuts in Central America? The breadnut tree, which is in the Mora family, produces a large oblong shaped fruit that has soft spikes covering it. It is known as the Castana (cast-on-ya) here in Costa Rica. It is a versatile seed that can be boiled, baked added into soups or dried to make the perfect flour for pasta making.
This is a small breadnut tree growing in Limon Costa Rica. In the background you can see many similar shaped leaves, those are the taller trees that dropped the fruit. The right soil conditions, sandy with good drainage, and warm temperatures, above 55 degrees F, allows seeds to reproduce without any intervention. The grown trees are quick producers fruiting after only 2 years.
Two to three fruits grow together at the end of a branch until they get fat and heavy and fall to the ground.
If you find the fallen fruit within the first few days of dropping, the seeds will be close together in a mushy mound. The fruit flesh decomposes quickly in the tropical environment so if you do not gather the seeds immediately they are likely to be to far along in their re-productive process to use as food.
Pick up the what looks like the mess below and use one of the trees big leaves to transport it back to your outdoor sink. The mushy flesh actually feels good in your hands. Try it you’ll like it.
Free the seed by removing the fleshy interior and firmer exterior casings.The seed has a protective membrane on one end that keeps it snug inside the fruit just tug at the other end and it will pop through allowing you to release it.
Rinse the seeds well and they will look like this.
Boiling, baking and roasting the seeds (nuts) will give you a great snack. The nuts are low in fat and high in protein. If boiling add salt to your water. After 20 minutes of a hard boil (fork should pick up seed easily) add garlic, chili powder and a touch of your own favorite spice to a bowl with a lid. Add nuts to said bowl and shake around to coat the nuts evenly. There is a flexible shell that needs to be removed before eating but you can squeeze the nut with your thumb to crack and then peel it away.
Serve to guests hot. If your guests are late (a frequent predicament here in Costa Rica) or you have some left over you can put in oven and re-warm.
To use the seed pulp as flour for pasta follow these steps. After cleaning the seeds place in a solar dryer for 3-4 days then put the seeds in an oven for two hours at 212 degrees F. This should sufficiently dry it out. Then grind the seeds using a hand mill (a food processor might have trouble with the size) and you will be left with a powder that you can use as a substitute for wheat flour in pastas and cookies.
Below is Breadfruit or Fruta de Pan which is sometimes confused with Breadnut. In this case the meat of the fruit is used instead of the seeds. The tree however looks the same. The only visible difference is found on the fruit which is smooth to the touch and without spikes. The soft meat is used and baked or fried and served with black bean dip. This is a common appetizer (entrada) found in the beach front restaurants in Limon.