The first time I had ackee was at my friend’s house. She was taking home economics and needed to showcase a cultural meal. Over the years I came to learn and read more into the origin of certain staples and its relation to the slave trade, because school WOULD NEVER teach that.
Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, and was brought over during the Slave trade from Ghana. My family is from the Ashanti region, which is a part of the Akan tribe. Now it’s not known if Ackee was named after the Akan people or the trees in Ghana which were referred to as “akye”, “ankye” or “akye-fufuo”.
Ackee (Blighia sapida) is a fruit found in West Africa, tropical, and subtropical environments. It is found on an evergreen tree from the Sapindaceae family.
The fruit is in a "capsule" and is made up of 3 fleshly pieces that split open when its mature and is ready for consumption.
Ackee is traditionally paired with saltfish, but also SEASONED onions, tomatoes, scallion, salt, and pepper. It is usually served for breakfast.
Why saltfish? It was a good source of protein and inexpensive to feed slaves. Fish was sourced from Nova Scotia in exchange for molasses and rum.
IS IT POISONOUS?!?!?
Yes, but it depends. Only mature ackee should be eaten because the black shiny seeds are poisonous.
There are 2 polypeptides (proteins) in Ackee: hypoglycin A and B, which are toxic.
As the fruit matures hypoglycin A in the flesh of the fruit turns into hypoglycin B and is more concentrated in the SEED.
What is Jamaican vomiting sickness?
By consuming hypoglycin, you run into the risk of this syndrome. Signs & symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Treatment involves treating for low blood sugar and maintaining vital function.
Alright, we're past the poison, and the sickness is preventable and treatable! What is even in ackee?
Ackee contains all three macronutrients, but is higher on the fat side. It is a tropical fruit, so it contains mostly the medium-chain fatty acids; linoleic and oleic.There are vitamins and minerals in ackee, and it also contains a key antioxidant called carotenoids.
Carotenoids are pigments usually found in red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables. Some carotenoids can be converted to Vitamin A, which is important for eye health, cardiovascular health, and some cancers.
The ackee canning industry provides a lot of employment for the Jamaican population. Typically ackee we receive is canned and goes through a sterilization process in Jamaica. For exportation, hypoglycin levels have to be below a certain ppm (parts per million) to be accepted.
In the United States: <100 ppm
In Canada and Europe: < 150 ppm
Other uses of ackee?
Ackee is not just paired with saltfish alone, duh. It is now being freeze-dried for transportation, you can make it into patties, and the best part... Ackee wine! I wonder what that taste like!
Hassall, C. H., & Beyle, K. (1955). The Toxicity of the Ackee (Blighia sápida) and its Relationship to the Vomiting Sickness of Jamaica. West Indian Medical Journal, 4(2), 83-90.
Hoba, A. M. F., Digbeu, Y. D., Binaté, S., Kouamé, L. P., & Dué, E. A. Physical Characteristics of The Fruit and Nutritional Potentialities of Dried and Roasted Seeds Arils of Blighia Sapida (Ackee Apple).
Kakpo, A. K., Ahouassa, J., Djohossou, M. C., Djossou, S., Adjalla, C. A., Fagla, C. A., ... & Gomina, M. (2020). Intoxication of the immature fruit of the ackee (Blighia sapida Koenig): Summary and development. GSC Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 13(1), 067-077.
Omobuwajo TO, Sanni LA, Olajide JO. Physical properties of ackee apple (Blighia sapida) seeds. Journal of Food engineering.. 2000 Jul;45(1):43-48. DOI: 10.1016/s0260-8774(00)00040-6.
Wray, D., Goldson-Barnaby, A., & Bailey, D. (2020). Ackee (Blighia Sapida KD Koenig)-A Review of Its Economic Importance, Bioactive Components, Associated Health Benefits and Commercial Applications. International Journal of Fruit Science, 20(sup2), S910-S924.