Ackee In Jamaica, The National Dish.
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About Jamaican Ackee.

The Jamaican ackee fruit is the national fruit of the island of Jamaica. It is also the main ingredient in Jamaica's national dish, Ackee and Salt fish. This is a popular meal and loved by both Jamaicans and tourists alike. This article gives all information about the Jamaican ackee, the cultivation, health benefits and other cooking and medicinal uses.

Jamaican ackee otherwise known as Akee is the national Jamaican ackee fruit of Jamaica. Its name is derived from the West African Akye fufo. The Jamaican ackee tree is not endemic to the West Indies but was introduced from West Africa during the 18th century. In layman’s terms Jamaican ackee is known in Spanish as akí, seso or vegetal. In French as aki, arbre or fricassee. In Portuguese as castanheiro do Africa and in German akibaum. The plant was further named Blighia sapida in honor of Captain William Bligh who took samples to Kew in 1793. The Jamaican ackee Jamaican ackee tree is native to tropical West Africa. Cultivated sporadically throughout the tropics and commercially in Jamaica. Jamaican ackee Jamaican ackee trees are found across the island of Jamaica but the main producing areas are located in Clarendon and St Elizabeth. There are two bearing seasons: between January to March and June to August.

The large Jamaican ackee tree grows up to 60 feet (18 m); it is densely branched and symmetrical, with a smooth gray bark. At maturity the ackee leaves are at 9-15 inches (23-38 cm) in length, alternate, compound, with 3-5 pairs of glossy leaflets. The flowers are greenish, small, staminate and hermaphroditic, in axillary’s racemes. The Jamaican ackee fruit is a red, yellow or orange capsule, 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) long, with 3 cream colored arils, each tipped with a black seed. Seeds, cuttings or grafting, propagate Jamaican ackee. It prefers fertile soils and full sun, from sea level to 3,000 feet (914 m) elevation. Seedling Jamaican ackee trees begin Jamaican ackee fruiting at about 4 years, while grafted Jamaican ackee trees produce Jamaican ackee fruit in 1-2 years. Jamaican ackee fruiting may occur throughout the year, but principally in December through May in the Northern Hemisphere. Several distinct clones have been identified in Jamaica, but named cultivars are not known. Two other species of the genus Blighia, both from tropical Africa, are B. unijugata, which has edible ackee leaves, and B. welwitschii, which has medicinal uses. The Jamaican ackee fruits turn yellow and red as they ripen.

The Jamaican ackee fruit turns red on reaching maturity and splits open with continued exposure to the sun. The mature Jamaican ackee fruit splits open along 3 sutures exposing the 3 large, shiny, black seeds attached to a white or milky-white aril. The firm and oily aril is the edible portion and is consumed fresh or is cooked and used as a vegetable. Great care must be exercised in using this Jamaican ackee fruit, since both immature and over mature Jamaican ackee fruits may be toxic.

Two peptides that proved to be toxic to animals have been isolated from unripe seeds of the akee. One of these, hypoglycemic A, also occurs in the edible portion, the concentration being particularly high when the aril is not fully ripe. Only naturally opened Jamaican ackee fruits should be eaten, and care should be taken to remove the pink or purplish membrane near the seed. Traditionally it is at this time that the Jamaican ackees are harvested and the arilli removed and cleaned in preparation for cooking. This delicacy is enjoyed by many at breakfast or as a Jamaican ackee treat. The canned product is exported to ethnic markets worldwide and continues to be enjoyed by both visitors to the island and Jamaicans residing overseas.

Though the edible aril is eaten cooked, it must be mature, fresh, and harvested when the Jamaican ackee fruit opens naturally. Immature arils, overripe arils, the outer rind of the Jamaican ackee fruit, the pink membrane under the seeds and the seeds contain hypoglycins, which are toxic and can be fatal. When harvested and prepared correctly, the arils are delicious and safe to eat.

Consumers of the unripe Jamaican ackee fruit sometimes suffer from 'Jamaican vomiting sickness syndrome' (JVS) allegedly caused by the unusual amino acid components, hypoglycemic A and B. In this regard it is recognized that the nutritional status of the consumer is important since diagnosed patients generally show manifestations of chronic malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. Although JVS has resulted in some fatalities in the past with symptoms including vomiting and severe hypoglycemia, nowadays such incidences are rare with the increased awareness of the necessity for consuming only ripe, opened Jamaican ackees.

Levels of hypoglycemia A in the Jamaican ackee arilli peak at maturity but rapidly diminish to non-detectable levels in the opened Jamaican ackee fruit making it safe for consumption. Recent studies done on the fatty acid composition of the arilli from Jamaican ackee have found that 51-58% of the arillus dry weight consists of lipids. Linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids were the major fatty acids observed with linoleic accounting for over 55% of the total fatty acids. These results show that the purified oil from Jamaican ackee has high nutritive value and makes an important contribution to the fatty acid intake of many Jamaicans.

One serving of "Jamaican ackee, canned, drained” has Water, Energy, Protein, Fat, Saturated fat, Cholesterol, Dietary fiber, Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folacin and vitamin C. Crushed immature Jamaican ackee fruits produce foam, which is used as soap. The wood is termite resistant, and may be used in the construction of different articles. The Jamaican ackee tree is also planted as an ornamental. Seed extracts are used in the treatment of parasites. The ripe Jamaican ackee fruit is consumed to lower fever and to control dysentery. A poultice of crushed ackee leaves is applied to the forehead to alleviate headaches, and to the skin to heal ulcers.

Jamaican ackee was introduced to Jamaica really around 1778, probably transported in a slave ship. It is now considered the national Jamaican ackee fruit, and the annual production is valued at over $13 million (USD). Canned Jamaican ackee is exported primarily to the United Kingdom and Canada. Importation of Jamaican ackee to the United States was prohibited from 1973 to 2000, but is now permitted. The Jamaican ackee is more widely grown in Jamaica than anywhere else in the Western hemisphere. Not to mention that the Jamaican ackee fruit makes up one half of the Jamaican national dish.

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