Food ForestsFood Plants - PerennialTrees

Staple Fruits of the World

This article is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Carbon Farming: A Global Toolkit for Stabilizing the Climate with Tree Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices, and is part of a series promoting my kickstarter campaign to raise funds with which to complete the book.

Breadfruit is a remarkable staple starch that grows on trees. This species should
be much more widely grown in the humid tropics. It represents a fully-developed
perennial staple crop. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Staple fruits provide starch, protein, and fats from fresh fruits. This is a marvelous category of perennial foods and offers much promise in sequestering carbon. Sadly for those of us in cold climates, not even one of our perennial fruits are high enough in starch, protein, or fat to make the cut. In fact almost all of these are for humid tropical climates – probably because it takes a lot of sunlight and water to produce that much food value. My source for the data here is Janick and Paull’s remarkable Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts, with some help from Lost Crops of Africa Volume III, Plant Resources of Southeast Asia, and Useful Plants of Neotropical Origin. I’ll profile additional species in the book.

These ‘superfruits’ can and should play an important role in carbon-sequestering agriculture, agroforestry, and productive reforestation efforts.

As my standard I determined that fruits should be used as a starchy vegetable or, when fresh, should demonstrate at least 5% protein or fat. I’ve also added the date palm, which though sugary rather than starchy has been an important staple for millennia. Percent starch figures are not available as most sources do not distinguish between dietary carbohydrates and inedible carbohydrates like starches and lignins. I hope to find more information to show that Pouteria species, for example, are as nourishing as they seem when eaten.

Latin Name Common Name Origin Climate




Artocarpus altilis breadfruit New Guinea humid tropical lowlands




Artocarpus heterophylla jakfruit Asia humid tropics and subtropics




Artocarpus integer champedak Asia humid tropics and subtropics




Bactris gasipaes peach palm tropical Americas humid tropical lowlands



Balanites aegyptica balanites North Africa arid tropics and subtropics




Blighia sapida akee West Africa humid tropics



Caryocar villosum Pequia Amazonia humid tropics



Dacryodes edulis safau, “Africado” West Africa humid tropics



Gustavia superba membrillo tropical Americas humid tropics



Iryanthera laevis cumala Amazonia humid tropics



Musa acuminata, M. balbisiana, & hybrids banana & plantian Asia humid tropics




Persea americana avocado Mesoamerica humid or monsoon tropics and subtropics



Phoenix dactylifera date palm Middle East arid tropics




Akee is incredibly high in protein and fat, but can be fatal if under ripe.

Safau is a remarkable African parallel to the avocado, high in protein and fat.
Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Peach palm is a nutritious staple palm fruit. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

The avocado is an important staple and also a delicious fruit.
Photo Wikimedia Commons.

The date palm has been a vital staple food to desert peoples for millennia.
Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Pequia flesh has incredibly high fat content,
and also features a delicious edible nut.
Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Balanites fruit is 40% sugar. This species also has edible nuts.
It grows in intensely arid deserts. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Bananas and plantains are widely grown starchy staples.

Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toensmeier is the award-winning author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables, and the co-author of Edible Forest Gardens. He is an appointed lecturer at Yale University, a Senior Biosequestration Fellow with Project Drawdown, and an international trainer. Eric presents in English, Spanish, and botanical Latin throughout the Americas and beyond. He has studied useful perennial plants and their roles in agroforestry systems for over two decades. Eric has owned a seed company, managed an urban farm that leased parcels to Hispanic and refugee growers, and provided planning and business trainings to farmers. He is the author of The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agricultural Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security released in February 2016.


  1. I look forward to reading your articles Eric. Great list. I see the Acai palm did not make it to your list though.

  2. Chestnuts are pretty super for cold climates if you have deep soil. I just noticed they like to be planted with Douglas firs if you have the space.

  3. Eric,

    Chestnut trees provide pretty decent staple food for temperate climate (cold hardiness for european and chinese chestnut is 5). For centuries chestnuts were staple food in lieu of bread in some parts of France.

  4. Yesterday I left a comment about chestnut trees, strangely it got deleted. So I said that chestnuts were a staple food in some parts of France in lieu of the more common bread from wheat. Chestnut trees are pretty decent for temperate (cold hardiness 5).

  5. Why not include some of the tree beans eg Inga edulis, pete (Indonesian)& why leave out coconut????

  6. Eric-

    This looks to be a great book! Can’t wait to read it.

    What about mulberries? They may be the most wide ranging genus that I know of, from subtropical to temperate. Not to mention their ease of propagation and their multiple other uses, from livestock fodder to paper and silk production.

    I found this online regarding the chemical composition of Morus:

    The results indicated that the moisture contents were 70.0-87.4%, the crude protein contents 1.62-5.54%, and the crude fat contents from 1.23-2.23%. The major fatty acids in mulberry fruits were linoleic acid (C(18:2)) and palmitic acid (C(16:0)), 26.40-74.77% and 9.29-22.26%, respectively. Mulberry fruit is also a good source of minerals and the potassium content (521.37-1718.60 mg/100g DW) is especially higher than that of other elements. Compared with other species, the Morus atropurpurea Roxb. had relatively high total polyphenols content (189.67-246.00 mg GAE/100mg) and anthocyanins content (114.67-193.00 mg/100mg). There was a good linear correlation between antioxidant activity and total polyphenols content.

  7. I have lived with my prolific breadfruit tree for twenty years. I get two crops a year. I have not discovered a way to keep them except to marinate like artichoke hearts. So a large number are ready at once, more than we can eat . Fortunately the Samoans here know when they are ready and ask for them. Unlike chestnuts breadfruit are tasteless and don’t store. Hawaiians prefer taro, more work but slightly tastier.

  8. Hi Marian, in some places people ferment breadfruit to preserve it for later. You can also feed excess to pigs and then eat them instead!

    Hi Lorax, that’s quite a bit higher than I’ve seen for mulberry, perhaps some varieties are much higher in protein, which would be awesome. I’ll be talking a lot about mulberries in the book for many reasons.

    Abrahim and Franck, I have whole sections devoted to nuts and tree beans, this article however is about fleshy staple fruits.

    Thanks everyone for your helpful comments.

  9. Any info on how to prepare the balenites fruit for convenient consumption would be great. This tree grows all over where i am, but the fruit/nuts could not really be described as highly appetizing! cheers, alex

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