Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica,1 but it’s actually native to the tropical forests of West Africa. It is believed that samples of the tree were brought to the Caribbean island in the 18th century and it’s been there ever since.2
The name “ackee” has African origins, and is derived from the word “Ankye” from the Twi language of Ghana. Its botanical name pays tribute to Captain William Bligh, who bought the plants from Jamaica to England in 1793 and introduced it to the Western world.3
Since its introduction to Jamaican culture, ackee has become an integral part of its history due to its role in “ackee and saltfish,” the country’s national dish.4 Today, it is exported around the world and enjoyed by countless people all over.
What Is Ackee?
Ackee is classified as an evergreen tree, which means that it has foliage throughout the year.5 It can grow up to a height of 25 feet tall, despite having a short trunk. The crown can grow very large and bloom luminous green leaves. It typically bears fruit twice a year, with the first harvesting season from January to March, and the second from June to August.6
The fruit typically grows in clusters on the branches. It has a characteristic red skin that, when opened, exposes three large, black seeds. Great care is important when harvesting the fruit, because the arils — the yellow, fleshy portion attached to each seeds — are the only edible portions. The rest contain toxins that can cause fatal side effects.7
The taste of ackee is often described to be mild, with a buttery and creamy texture.8 Due to these characteristics, ackee is usually treated as a vegetable in cooking, as opposed to a fruit. This is why it is used in many savory dishes, because it can pair well with other vegetables, meat and fish.9
Take Advantage of These Health Benefits of Ackee
Ackee is not just popular for its taste and usefulness in culinary creations. It has potential health benefits that may help with the following:10
- Digestive Problems
The ackee fruit is rich in fiber, which can help regulate bowel elimination by adding bulk to your stool and quickening movement through your intestines. Fiber can also help lower your risk of bloating, cramping, constipation and inflammation of the colon. It may also help reduce bad cholesterol levels, thereby helping boost heart health.
- Blood Pressure
Ackee is rich in potassium, which is a known vasodilator. It works by opening up (dilating) your blood vessels so that your cardiovascular system will not work too hard. This can help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and damage to your blood vessels.
- Blood Circulation
Aside from helping lowering blood pressure, ackee can help improve your blood circulation. It is rich in iron, which is crucial because it helps deliver oxygen efficiently around your body. The iron content may help with the symptoms of anemia as well, such as weakness, lightheadedness and cognitive issues.
- Immune System
Aside from cooking, one of the original uses of ackee is to help alleviate common illnesses. It happens to be a great source of vitamin C, a nutrient that can help boost your immune system, which helps protect your body from various diseases.
The Different Uses of Ackee
The ackee tree is mainly enjoyed for its fruit, which can be used in various types of dishes. Aside from this, the other parts of the tree have various uses:
- Tools: In Ghana, the wood is used for making oars and casks.11
- Perfumes: The flowers are used as an ingredient for perfumes. 12
- Medicines: Seed extracts and aril mixtures of the fruit have been used to help treat dysentery and kill parasites. 13
- Furniture: The wood is known to be termite-resistant, making it great for use as furniture.14
- Gardening: The tree is a popular fixture in gardens because of its attractive characteristics.15
Lastly, ackee plays an important role in the economy of Jamaica. The Jamaican ackee exporting industry is valued at around $4.5 million, and is steadily growing every year. It helps provide many citizens with jobs and livelihoods.16
How to Cook Ackee
Ackee is one of the main ingredients of Jamaica’s national dish, simply named “ackee and saltfish.” This dish is composed of different herbs and spices, and can be served any time of the day. Ackee and saltfish has some varieties, but remains largely unchanged due to its deep roots in Jamaican history.14
The fruit can be cooked in various ways as well, most commonly:
- Fritters: Ackee can be used to make fritters, which is great as an afternoon snack.18
- Soups: You can create hot, creamy ackee soup by mixing it with chicken stock, heavy cream, tomatoes and peppers for spiciness.19
- Quiches: These are open-faced pastries packed with a savory filling. You can mix ackee and various vegetables to create tasty quiches.20
- Soufflés: Ackees can be used as the main ingredient for a tasty soufflé.21
- Salads: You can add ackees to a salad to give it a fruity flavor.22
Classic Ackee and Saltfish
As mentioned previously, ackee and saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica. The two namesake ingredients are sautéed alongside various herbs, spices and vegetables. Another reason for its popularity is the ease of preparation. Here’s a simple recipe you can try.23
|1/2 pound of organic saltfish (also known as salted codfish)
||1 dozen tree-ripe ackees
||1 large onion
||1 tsp. of black pepper
|2 sprigs of thyme
||2 crushed garlic cloves
||3 slices of Scotch Bonnet peppers
||1 small, red sweet pepper
|1 small tomato
||Organic coconut oil for sautéing
- Soak the fish in cold water to remove the salt. As an alternative, you may boil it in water for five to seven minutes.
- Clean the ackees by removing the seeds and all traces of the interior red pit from the fruit.
- Wash the ackees for a few times under running water to ensure that they are clean.
- Cover and boil the ackees in a pot until they are moderately soft. Drain, cover and put them aside.
- Flake the boiled fish with a fork and remove the bones.
- Thinly slice the onion and the sweet pepper and sauté them in a pan.
- Cut up the tomato into chunks, and place them in the pan. Afterwards, remove half of the onions and peppers.
- Add the fish and the ackees, then slightly increase the heat. Add the black pepper afterwards. Let everything simmer for a few minutes.
- Pour the food into a serving plate, then garnish it with the remaining onions and peppers that you’ve set aside.
- For added authenticity, the dish can be served alongside boiled yellow yam, roasted breadfruit, boiled dumplings or boiled green bananas.
Ackee Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 100 grams
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Side Effects of Ackee You Should Know About
The export of ackee to the U.S. had a rocky start due to quality issues. It was strictly banned for many years because it contains a toxin called hypoglycin A. When ingested, this toxin causes several side effects such as vomiting, drowsiness and muscular exhaustion. More serious side effects include prostration, and possibly even coma or death.24
The toxin is largely found in unripe fruits that are harvested early. Specifically, it is located in the seeds, arils, raphe and the rind. If any of these parts get into the packaging, the product is contaminated. However, if the ackee is harvested at the right time, the toxin level significantly drops, making it safe for consumption.25
Fortunately, the situation is improving in the ackee export industry, allowing Americans to enjoy the fruit. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently lifted the ban, but exporters must pass the FDA’s rigorous testing. If an exporter passes with flying colors, they are added to the Green List, which means their products are safe and made from high-quality fruit.26
Companies that make it to the Yellow List on the other hand, can export their products, but have barely passed the FDA’s requirements, necessitating further product tests.27 Needless to say, if you’re purchasing ackee, make sure it is from a company included in the Green List.