Bwiro, a traditional Marshallese food, is made from fermented breadfruit. Historically, breadfruit and pandanaus were two of the main food sources in the Marshall Islands. A limitation to these fruits was their seasonal availability, limiting their use to specific times of the year. The earliest written description of bwiro is from 1824 when William Lay, who was aboard the ship The Globe, spent time on Mili Atoll.
Bwiro was developed as a way to preserve breadfruit during periods of drought or other natural calamities such as disastrous storms or typhoons. It is a nonperishable substance that can last years and is halfway between bread and fruit which made the name “breadfruit” apt. Bwiro served as insurance against starvation between seasons of plenty and saved lives. Other foods such as the coconut was a wonderful snack, but it was a terrible staple.
There are two main varieties of bwiro and the lengthy process of making it has several variations depending one’s location in the Marshall Islands. The first variation is slightly sweet and moist and one can compare it to fruitcake or even a baked sweet potato. The second is a sour, dry variety and has a less favorable reputation among expats.
Bwiro saved lives.
One method to make it is as follows:
- pick the fruit while still on the tree,
- peel the breadfruit with a scraper made from a seashell,
- cut into sections and remove the core,
- put pieces in porous cloth bag, such as burlap bag and soak in lagoon for 3-4 days,
- step and mash breadfruit pieces (like old fashioned wine making),
- dig pit in ground and line with breadfruit leaves and bury for weeks to months,
- remove breadfruit and rinse several times to remove bitter taste,
- When ready to eat spread paste on pan and bake and serve.
- Etto n̄an Raan Kein: A Marshall Islands History. by Julianne M. Walsh, Ph.D.; in collaboration with Hilda C. Heine, Ed.D.; with the assistance of Carmen Milne Bigler, Mark Stege. 2012. 526 pp.
- Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island. by Peter Rudiak-Gould. 2009.