The Mayan Breadnut Company

Project Iximche

A community forestry project led by T.H. Culhane (UCLA Dept. of Urban Planning Ph.D. candidate) and Pedro Cuc (Maya Quiche director of INGUAT)


Need for project:

Domestic Need:

Whereas the Mayan people practiced a sustainable silvacultural farming method based on the use of Iximche and other agroforestry cultivars for thousands of years, the rules have changed drastically in the past 30 years. Destructive extensive agricultural practices that were developed in non-forested regions are now having tremendous deleterious impacts on the thin soils of the Guatemalan lowlands.

Every day, hundreds of immigrants arrive in the Peten rainforest region of Guatemala, displaced from their highland homes by population pressures, civil war, poverty and lack of opportunity at home. Unfamiliar with techniques for the sustainable management of tropical lowland soil regimes, they fall into a destructive pattern of deforestation, corn and pasture planting, no fallow harvesting schedules and overgrazing that quickly results in soil exhaustion and erosion.

The pattern continues with the push into new territory and the destruction of the remaining forest cover; the former agricultural fields are abandoned to weed and are subject to fires, soil run-off and further degradation.

Our project seeks to mitigate this process of continual impoverishment and ecological crisis by

  1. Providing a suitable, sustainable, high-value agroforestry crop alternative (Iximche -- the "Mayan breadnut", Brosimum alicastrum) to the inappropriate mono-cultural grass-crop plantings now in use.
  2. Training immigrant campesino families in pluricultural bio-intensive forest farming techniques that produce high yields on small, permanent plots.
  3. Providing strong market incentives for the preservation of extant forest areas which contain on average 20% Iximche and other trees of potential socio-economic importance.


International need:

Both the spectre of unparalleled biodiversity loss and fears of the greenhouse effect on global weather patterns are motivating industrialized nations to find ways of not only preserving tropical forest cover but increasing total amounts of standing tree plantings. One problem that reforestation efforts face is the reluctance of tropical governments to take vast areas out of food production solely for the purposes of protecting endangered species and/or mopping up industrial gases produced in the temperate zone. What is needed to get around this dilemma are large, carbon-fixing forest trees that not only sequester greenhouse gases and provide habitat for wildlife, but produce food as efficiently as the grain crops that are responsible for most of the deforestation in the Peten region in the first place. The use of Iximche (also known as 'Ramon' in Guatemala) meets all of these criteria.


Population to be served:

Geographic Location:

Macanche for pilot project: Description of Plot Size, Lagoon for Irrigation, Current State of Land, Energy Sources, Et.

Innovative Aspects:

International cooperation between UCLA and Local Populations who have knowledge of traditional plants, techniques, etc.

Challenges current trends of grain production for sustaining populations. We have other funding sources to enhance the final project and sustain it beyond initial start up.



How measured:


Background material

Facts about Iximche (Ramon) from:

Heinz Brucher: Useful Plants of Neotropical Origin and Their Wild Relatives (with 182 figures).

Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York, London Paris Tokyo Hong Kong



Brosimum spp.

The pantropical "mulberry" family has given to mankind several important fruit trees, to mention only the Asiatic genus Artocarpus with the distinct breadfruits and jackfruits which in some tropical countries now represent the daily standard diet. The world-wide dispersed Ficus species belong also to the Moraceae. In the neotropics we have two genera which are still underexploited: Brosimum and Pourouma, both of paramount importance as food for the Indians: of the genus Brosimum have been described several neotropical species. We mention only the following:

B. galactodendron HBK

Avicuri. Sande, arbol de leche

This iss the famous "milk-tree" of Alexander v. Humboldt. When he described in 1825 the existence of this curious tree, which produces a latex juice which Indians consume like milk, it sounded so fantastic that only the authority of the this famous naturalist could disperse the doubts. Humboldt and Bonpland observed the species in prov. Carabobo of Venezuela. The trees, called by natives Sande, Guaymaro, Palo de Leche, are 15 – 30 m high and form an enormous extended canopy. The leaves are simple, oval-oblong (10-30 cm long) and sit on short petioles. The inflorescenses are spherical receptacles with many male flowers, and only one pistilate flower without perianth. The fruits are small berries with one seed inside, and are edible. But much more important for the nourishment of Indians who cross the forests is the abundant latex, which exudes from the trunk when the bark is incised. This milky juice does not coagulate. Natives have used this creamy juice since time immemorial. Also Europeans have tried it during their tropical expeditions without side-effects. The "milktree" has a rather wide areal, from Ecuador, Colombia to Venezuela, and recently in Asia (Java, Sri-Lanka), where the kernels are eaten and the latex consumed like milk (Fig. X.17).



B. alicastrum Swartz.

Synonym: B. bernadetteae Woods, B. latifolium Standl., B. terrabanum Pitt.

Breadnut, ramon, ujushte, ojoche, apompo

2n = 26

Tall trees (24-40m high) in tropical forests distributed from Ecuador, Colombia, Panama to Guatemala, Mexico (as far as Veracruz), Yucatan, also reported from Jamaica. The trees are dioecious.

The bark, when cut, also exudes latex (similarly to the above-mentioned species, but not as abundantly).

The leaves are oblong-ovate (10-25cm long) with prominent veins (16-18 pairs) sitting on short stout petioles, with amplexical, 5-mm-long stipules.

Inflorescenses are subglobose heads (3-6 mm diam.). The anthers are circulate and centrally peltate, about 1 mm in diameter.

Fruits, when ripe, are yellow (30 mm diam.) globose, with edible pulp. The seeds are covered with a papery testa. The seed kernels are very nutritious, they fall down and cover the ground under the trees with thousands of small seeds. In their food value they compare favourably with maize, because their percentage of essential amino acids is considerably higher, especially triptophane. The calculated 14% of amino acids is four times higher than in corn. Additionally the leaves are good cattle forage. (The Spanish name "ramon" means: browse for forage) Fig. X.18)

B. alicastrum trees are abundant near Maya ruins. Puleston (1972, 1982) studied this association near the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala and came to interesting conclusions. He revealed that the ramon tree had been deliberately cultivated by Maya Indians, as an important alternative food, when, for example, maize failed. As is known, the Maya civilization achieved its greatest development rather late, i.e. between the years 300 – 900 of our epoch. Admirable constructions were built in dense tropical forest regions, under living conditions very difficult for human occupation, in the Northern Peten of Guatemala, but Puleston (1982) demonstrated that when such a marginal environment was skilfully utilized, especially its plant resources, it could have sustained such a high culture. He concluded that the Mayas created a state society with one of the highest regional population densities in the pre-industrial world. The key to this success was the utilization of the seed crop produced by B. alicastrum. Traditionally it has been thought that Zea mays was the sustenance of the ancient Maya culture. But Puleston doubted this, and stated that the nutrition of the Maya people could not have depended on the maize – milpa – cultivation alone. It needed completion with Brosimum, the "breadfruit" of the Amerindians. Whilst maize could have produced there an average of 324 kg/ha per year, the ramon tree can produce five times more per year and unit of land. Thanks to the enthusiastic research work of Puleston, this underexploited useful food plant recently won the interest of Mexican centers of biological research (Peters and Tejeda 1982). We may hope that B. alicastrum will receive genetical improvement to become a modern food plant for the tropics in general.


Peters C, Pardo-Tejeda E (1982) Brosimum alicastrum, uses and potential in Mexico. Econ Bot 36: 166-175

Puleston DE (1982) Maya subsistence. In: Flannery (ed.) Academic Press, New York.


Facts from:

SENDERO GUIDE to the Peten

Ramon Colorado

Trophis racemosa (Moraceae)

Yax’ox (Mayan name)

This is a very important tree that the Peten forest society relies upon to feed its animals. The leaves of Ramon Colorado provide the diet for farm animals such as horses, mules and cows. The wood is also used in construction for crossbeams and skirting boards.

(from Mabberley, The Plant Book, 2nd Edition:

Trophis P. Browne. Moraceae (I). 9 trop. Am., Madag., Mal. To New Caled. R: PKNAW C91(1988)352.)

Ramon Blanco

Brosimum alicastrum

Ujuste (Mayan name)

Ramon is a plant that provides in both the leaves and the fruit 20% crude protein – more than corn or wheat. Hence even more so than its cousin ramon colorado, ramon blanco is the most important source of food for mules and horses; without it the Peten forest society would have no transportation. It is an extremely common plant comprising up to 20% of the trees in Petens forest. Particularly abundant around Maya ruins, scientists have maintained that the see, a small round nut with the texture and taste of a raw potato, was a staple of the ancient Maya diet. When dried and ground, the seed produces a rich flour that can be used for tortillas and cakes. Today it is considered a famine food. Because it is commonly found on top of and around Maya ruins, it is also argued that the tree was cultivated in plantations and that such high densities are a botanical artifact of Mayan forest management. Another theory argues that the soil conditions around ruins (rocky and dry) are ideal for the species and thus concentrations are not necessarily a legacy of the ancient Mayans.

(from Mabberley, The Plant Book, 2nd Edition:

Brosimum Sw. Moraceae (IV). 13 trop. Am. R: FN 7(1972)161.

Male fls (single stamens), female fls & fr. embedded in fleshy receptacle. B. alicastrum Sw. (breadnut, ramon) - lvs for fodder (drought-tolerant), seeds ed., latex potable, wood fine; B. guianense (Aublet) Huber (amourette, leopard wood, letterwood, Guianas) – for violin bows, turnery etc.; B. rubescens Taubert (B. paraense, cardinal wood, brazil wood, satine, snakewood, Brazilian redwood) – furniture etc.; B. utile (Kunth) Oken (cow-tree) – latex potable & base for chewing-gum, barkcloth.)

Don Ramon: Un Arbol de respeto



Historia del Ramon

El Ramon es un arbol del bosque tropical abundante en Peten y cuyos usos remontan a la epoca de los Mayas. Su abundancia en zonas arqueologicas en la actualidad podria indicar que era consumido por los Mayas.

Desde inicios de la extraccion de chicle en el Peten el ramon ha servido para alimentar a las mulas en la montana, nuestros abuelos comentan que en epocas de escasez de maiz, el ramon lo sustituyo.



El Ramon, Brosimum alicastrum, pertenece a la familia Moraceae, de porte alto y tronco robusto. Se conoce tambien como Ujushte.


El Ramon en Nuestras Parcelas


Forraje y Lena

Al tener arboles en potreros, cuando el pasto escasea, se poda el ramon para que el ganado coma. De las ramas, puede obtenerse lena para el hogar.


Sombra y Proteccion

El Ramon disperso en los potreros o como cerco vivo proporciona sombra para los animales y los protégé contra las inclemencias del tiempo.


El Ramon en Nuestra Dieta

La semilla de Ramon es un alimento rico en proteinas que puedee prepararse de diferentes maneras: atol, sopa, tortillas, pan e incluso pastel de ramon.


El Ramon En El Bosque

El Ramon sirve de alimento a muchos animales silvestres: como saraguates, tepezcuintles, murcielagos y muchas especies de aves.


Como Sembrar Ramon

  1. Siembra directa
  2. Haciendo un vivero
  3. Cuidando los arbolitos que nacen solos en los guamiles.


Pastel De Ramon


3 barras de margarina

2 sobrecitos de canela

½ cucharadita de sal

5 libras de semilla de Ramon

2 libras de azucar (o miel, preferablemente miel de abeja donceya or mosca real)

6 huevos

2 tazas de leche o agua


La semilla del Ramon se pone a cocinar.

Se calienta agua con ceniza y cal, y cuando esta hirviendo se agrega la semilla (tiene que estar bien lavada).

Cuando esta bien cocida, se deja enfriar y luego se pela, se muele en el molino como si fuera maiz.

Cuando la masta esta lista se le agrega la leche con el azucar o miel hasta que este bien mezclado y no queden bolitas.

Se le agrega el resto de los ingredientes y se mezclan bien.

Se engrasa un molde y se pone a hornear, para saber si ya esta bien cocido, se mete un cuchillo y cuando salga limpio, es que ya esta listo. Tambien puede agregarse crema si se quiere.


Sopa de Ramon


1 libra de mas de ramon

1 Diente de ajo

Hojoas de cilantro cimarron

1 Cucharada de margarina o aceite

1 ½ Litro de agua

1 Cebolla grande

2 Tomates

Sal y pimienta al gusto


La masa del ramon se deshace con el agua y se pone a hervir. En un sarten se frie la cebolla, el tomate, el cilantro y el ajo con margarina o aceite y agregarlo a la masa. Se deja que hierva. Se sazona con sal y pimienta al gusto.

Se le puede agregar crema o queso al momento de servirse.


Atol de Ramon


½ libra de masa de ramon

1 Litro de agua o leche

Canela en raja


El agua o la leche se pone a hervir con canela y cuando esta suelta su olor se le agrega la masa y disuelta con otro poco de agua. Se deja hervir unos 5 minutos y luego se sirve.

Debemos dejar nuestra reserva de bosque, ya que nos da muchos beneficios.