Since this week marks Jamaica’s 50th anniversary as an independent nation, I thought it would be fitting to feature ackee, Jamaica’s national fruit, as the Ingredient of the Week. As you may know, ackee is considered a fruit, but it’s cooked as a vegetable. It’s a key ingredient in Jamaica’s national dish, Ackee and Saltfish. There’s nothing like using fresh ackee in this recipe. I grew up in a house with a large ackee tree in the yard and, as I recall, it produced fruit year-round. So, I guess you can say I’m a little spoiled, though today I’m happy to use canned ackee, which is easier to find outside Jamaica.
Here’s some more information I found about ackee:
Ackee is not indigenous to Jamaica. It was likely originally imported to the island from West Africa, probably on a slave ship. Now it grows there luxuriantly, producing large quantities of edible fruit each year.
Ackee is derived from the original name Ankye which comes from the Twi language of Ghana. The botanical name of the fruit – Blighia Sapida – was given in honour of Captain William Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame, who in 1793 took plants of the fruit from Jamaica to England.
The ackee tree grows up to 15.24m (50ft) under favourable conditions. It bears large red and yellow fruit 7.5 – 10 cm (3-4 in.) long. When ripe the fruit burst into sections revealing shiny black round seeds on top of a yellow aril which is partially edible.
There are two main types of ackee identified by the colour of the aril. That with a soft yellow aril is known as ‘butter’ and ‘cheese’ is hard and cream-coloured. Ackee contains a poison (hypoglcin) which is dissipated when it is properly harvested and cooked. The fruit should not be gathered until the pods open naturally. In addition, the aril must be properly cleaned of red fibre and the cooking water discarded.
Jamaica is the only place where the fruit is widely eaten. However, it has been introduced into most of the other Caribbean islands (for example, Trinidad, Grenada, Antigua and Barbados), Central America and Florida, where it is known by different names. Jamaican canned ackee is now exported and sold in markets patronized by expatriate Jamaicans.