Ackee (Blighia sapida), often written akee, is a tree of the soapberry family (Sapindaceae) that is native to West Africa and widely cultivated for its edible fruit in tropical and subtropical countries. Ackee and salt fish is a classic Caribbean meal that is also Jamaica’s national cuisine. The ackee tree was brought to the Caribbean area with slaves from Africa, and it was introduced to science by William Bligh (thus its botanical name), the ill-fated Bounty’s commander.
The evergreen tree has pinnately compound leaves (rows of leaflets on either side of a common axis) and fragrant white blossoms that grow to around 9 meters (30 feet) tall. When the fist-sized fruits reach maturity, the reddish woody shell splits open to show three white arils (fleshy seed covers), each with a huge lustrous black seed. The soft, tasteless arils are eaten as a vegetable, though unripe arils are poisonous and even lethal.
Physical Appearance of the Ackee Plant
Blighia sapida is a fast-growing evergreen tree that can reach a height of 20 m (65 ft) by 20 m (65 ft). It is hardy to zone 10 in the United Kingdom. Bees are responsible for pollinating the flowers. The plant does not reproduce on its own. However, it is well-known for its ability to attract wildlife.
Medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils are suitable; it favors well-drained soil but can grow in nutritionally deficient soil. Acid, neutral, and basic (alkaline) soils are all suitable pH levels. It is unable to thrive in the shade. It prefers moist soil and is drought tolerant.
Edible Parts of the Ackee Plant
Fruit should be eaten raw when it is fully ripe. The stiff, oily arils that surround the seeds have a nutty flavour, but they can quickly turn rancid. The meaty fruit can also be curried and used to soups, stews, and other dishes. When the fruit has naturally split open, four big glossy black seeds embedded in spongy, cream-colored buttery arils are removed.
Pear-shaped fruit is 75mm long and 45mm (1.77 inch) wide, and it grows in clumps of three to ten. Before removing the fruit from the tree, it must be allowed to open up completely, or at least partially open. Hypoglycin and its derivatives are highly poisonous in unripe or overripe arils, as well as the seeds. The seeds yield a yellowish oil that is believed to be edible.
Ackee Plant, Human Use
The word Ackee is derived from the original name Ankye from the Twi language of Ghana; the tree is not native to Jamaica. Although the exact date of the trees’ arrival in Jamaica is unknown, the fruit is said to have been introduced to the Caribbean by slave ships sometime during the 18th century.
In 1778, Thomas Clarke, Jamaica’s first botanist, is credited with bringing the plant to the island for the first time. The botanical name, Blighia Sapida, was given to the fruit in honor of Captain William Bligh, of the “Mutiny on the Bounty” renown, who brought young trees from Jamaica to London’s Kew Gardens in 1793.
Cooking Method for Ackee Fruit
Ackee fruit, when properly picked and prepared, is wonderful; it tastes and looks like scrambled eggs, and it’s commonly eaten for breakfast. Ackee fruit is typically boiled for around thirty minutes in a deep pot, with the water being discarded. The prepped fruit is then mixed with saltfish and sautéed with onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, allspice, and Scotch Bonnet chilies.
The skin and seeds of the Ackee, on the other hand, are poisonous, and if the fruit is not fully ripe, it contains high levels of deadly hypoglycins, which can be fatal.
Fantastic Facts About Ackee Plants
- Hypoglycin found in Ackee skin and seeds is also found in Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) seeds, which have been related to sickness in horses.
- Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica.
- Salted cod from Nova Scotia in Canada was salted and shipped in large quantities to the Caribbean for ackee dishes before electric refrigeration.
- Roasted breadfruit and boiled green banana are served with ackee and cod.
- Time Magazine reported ackee as one of the world’s 10 most dangerous foods.
- Ackee is harvested all year so it’s an ideal staple fruit when safe.
Ackee Fruit Poisoning
In 1904, a link was discovered between Ackee and Jamaican vomiting sickness (JVS), and in 1937, a water-soluble poisonous substance was discovered in the seed and pods. Because hypoglycin is not eliminated during cooking or canning, even perfectly ripened Ackee has been known to cause toxicity if not treated appropriately (The green fruits, which generate lather in water, are used as fish poison in lakes in West Africa.)
The Jamaican Ministry of Health has documented 271 cases of ackee poisoning since 1980, with the true incidence rate thought to be substantially higher due to under reporting. Because of this risk, extreme caution is exercised when collecting the fruit and preparing an Ackee dish.
Cultural Importance Ackee Plant
The Ackee fruit is only commonly consumed in Jamaica, and as a result, the tree has taken on enormous cultural significance, with images of the tree and fruit appearing throughout the island. The anthropologist John Rashford defines the Ackee tree as “the island’s colorful tree of life,” noting how Jamaicans have come to link it with joy, overall well-being, and national pride.
The tree’s folklore and respect, hint at its potential as the island’s gruesome death tree. “Me fader send me to pick out a wife; tell me to tek only those who smile, because those who do not smile wi’ kill me!” says an old Jamaican riddle. The Ackee is the answer to the puzzle, and it refers to crucial information about how the fruit must organically open on the tree, or smile, before being picked.
Q & A About Ackee Plant
What makes ackee illegal in the United States?
Ackee contains a lot of the toxin “hypoglycin A” when it’s unripe, which interrupts blood glucose synthesis and raises the risk of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia, if left untreated, can lead to coma and possibly death. As a result, the FDA has prohibited the importation of raw fruit since 1973.
Is it possible for ackee to kill you?
Ackee, can contain deadly quantities of “hypoglycin A” if harvested before fully ripe, it can result in vomiting, hypoglycemia, and even death.
When is Ackee safe to eat?
Ackee is safe to eat when the fruit opens naturally and you can see the yellow pods inside without forcing the fruit open, it is believed to be safe to eat.
Where is Ackee grown?
The Island of Jamaica is covered with dense Ackee plantations and also grows wild aside many roads.
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