English: ackee, akee
Spanish: akí, seso vegetal
French: aki, arbre fricassé
Portuguese: castanheiro do Africa
Origin and Distribution
Native to tropical West Africa. Cultivated sporadically throughout the tropics, commercially in Jamaica.
Large tree to 60 feet (18 m), densely branched and symmetrical, with smooth gray bark. Leaves 9-15 inches (23-38 cm) in length, alternate, compound, with 3-5 pairs of glossy leaflets. Flowers greenish, small, staminate and hermaphroditic, in axillary racemes. Fruit a red, yellow or orange capsule, 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) long, opening at maturity, with 3 cream colored arils, each tipped with a black seed.
Propagation and Culture
Ackee is propagated by seeds, cuttings or grafting. It prefers fertile soils and full sun, from sea level to 3,000 feet (914 m) elevation. Seedling trees begin fruiting at about 4 years, while grafted trees produce fruit in 1-2 years. Fruiting may occur throughout the year, but principally in December through May in the Northern Hemisphere.
Cultivars and Related Species
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 leaves, and B. welwitschii, which has medicinal uses.
The edible aril is eaten cooked, but must be mature, fresh, and harvested when the fruit opens naturally. Immature arils, overripe arils, the outer rind of the 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. Ackee and saltfish is highly esteemed in Jamaica, where it is the national dish.
Nutritional composition per 100 g ackee fruit
Crushed immature fruits produce foam, which is used as soap. The wood is termite resistant, and may be used in the construction of different articles. The tree is also planted as an ornamental. Seed extracts are used in the treatment of parasites. The ripe fruit is consumed to lower fever and to control dysentery. A poultice of crushed leaves is applied to the forehead to alleviate headaches, and to the skin to heal ulcers.
Ackee was introduced to Jamaica around 1778, probably transported in a slave ship. It is now considered the national fruit, and the annual production is valued at over $13 million (USD). Canned ackee is exported primarily to the United Kingdom and Canada. Importation of ackee to the United States was prohibited from 1973 to 2000, but is now permitted.
More information on ackee
From Julia Morton’s Fruits of Warm Climates.
A recipe to make your own ackee and saltfish!
Gardens, Hwy 120 Km 18.9, Box 692, Maricao, Puerto Rico 00606 USA
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