Nonprofit teams with UST on breadfruit dryer project

A Minnesota-based nonprofit has teamed up with the University of St. Thomas in hopes of using breadfruit to fight hunger in developing countries.

Breadfruit is a staple in some tropical countries. It has a bland flavor when cooked, with a taste ranging somewhere between potatoes and bread, but it has an extremely short shelf life, usually rotting within 48 hours of ripening.

Enter St. Paul-based Compatible Technology International, which develops simple hand-powered devices to harvest and process crops. It’s working on a way to shred breadfruit, dry it and grind it into breadfruit flour, which has an almost an unlimited shelf life.

Bert Rivers, vice president of operations for CTI, said that the key is finding a good way to dry the breadfruit. A suitable dryer must be light, inexpensive, easy to use, able to protect the fruit from rain and humidity, and not use electricity or fossil fuels.

So CTI enlisted St. Thomas.

Camille George, an engineering professor who sits on the board of CTI, is encouraging teams of engineers to design and build their own dryers. Teams must submit their designs by Jan. 15.

The first and second place teams will be flown to Hawaii in March to demonstrate their inventions to the Breadfruit Institute, a group that’s promoting the underutilized crop as a way to fight hunger.

George said there’s already interest in tropical regions for what comes out of the contest.

“People from various islands have contacted us saying ‘When you get this thing working, we want to know about it,'” she said.