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Ackee and Saltfish | 10 Facts About Jamaica's National Dish

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer



National Dish of Jamaica - Ackee and Saltfish
Photo: National Dish of Jamaica - Ackee and Saltfish

What is Jamaica’s National Dish? If you ask me, I would jokingly say “rice n peas and chicken”, LOL, but it’s not. The National Dish of Jamaica is actually Ackee and Saltfish.
Over the years, there have been public and private discussions about the selection as neither of the items in the dish is native to Jamaica. Nevertheless, we celebrate them as our National Dish and I bet there is a lot more that you don’t know about Jamaica’s National Dish. No worries though, today I will share 10 interesting things with you.
  1. The ackee and saltfish that makes up the Jamaican national dish are not native to Jamaica or even the Caribbean.

  2. The word “Ackee” was derived from the original name of “Ankye”, which is from the Twi language of Ghana. The scientific name for ackee is Blighia sapida.

  3. The Ackee is said to have been brought to Jamaica by a captain of a slave ship (Captain Bligh) from West Africa in 1778. However, Captain William Bligh, a famous English sailor took the fruit from Jamaica and brought it to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793, where it was introduced to science. For his 'discovery', the scientific name Blighia sapida was given to the fruit in honour of the Captain. This same Captain Bligh brought the breadfruit to Jamaica which is a very popular accompaniment to Ackee and Saltfish.

  4. The ackee is also the National Fruit of Jamaica (If I had my way, I would say it should be mango, lol). The fruit typically has three black seeds surrounded by whitish-yellow flesh and a skin that turns bright red when it is mature. Once it is ripe the red skin opens and reveals the flesh and the seeds.

  5. The ackee can be poisonous if not properly prepared. The fruit should never be forced open as it is still very toxic at this stage. When it opens on its own, the flesh should be thoroughly cleaned of the pinkish substance found inside, as this is also poisonous. It, along with the black seeds should be discarded leaving just the yellow parts, which is the only part of the ackee fit for eating.

    Ackee should be boiled by itself and the water disposed of to avoid poisoning. Unfortunately, a number of persons get poisoned after eating ackee, and its consumption also resulted in numerous fatalities especially in children. Fortunately, fatalities have significantly reduced due to education on its preparation. It is a good practice to drink something very sweet after consuming ackee. This is considered to counteract any poison that may be present.

  6. The saltfish is the same thing as Codfish. This is actually preserved fish, produced in the North Atlantic region. It was originally brought to Jamaica by plantation owners as it was considered to be an inexpensive way to feed their slaves. After slavery, it still remained a popular source of protein and especially among the indentured servants (Indians, Chinese) that were brought here as it was a very affordable source of protein and didn’t need refrigeration. For some, it was the only protein they could afford and it was usually referred to as “poor people’s food”.

  7. Ackee and saltfish is usually served with, roast breadfruit, fried breadfruit, dumplings, yam, green bananas, bread, bammies, rice. However, you can have it with any side of your preference.

  8. Though ackee and saltfish may be seen by some persons as more of a side dish, rather than a full meal, it actually does have the nutritional content of a complete meal.

  9. The saltfish or codfish is extremely salty and is usually soaked overnight to remove saltiness before preparation.

  10. Ackee and saltfish is predominantly a popular breakfast or brunch meal in Jamaica.

So there you have it! Interesting stuff indeed. An unlikely pair (ackee and saltfish) of rich history coming together to make a national dish. This shouldn’t be a surprise, this is Jamaica after all. Out of Many One People...Out of Many, One Dish, lol. I like mine with lots of onions and green peppers and just about any side. How about you?

I also recommend you read Jamaican Ackee - One of my favourite Jamaican food.

Regards,
DC

References:
  • What is the National Dish of Jamaica?, My-Island-Jamaica, https://www.my-island-jamaica.com/what-is-the-national-dish-of-jamaica.html
  • Facts on Jamaica: How Much Do You Know About Ackee ?, Jamaicans, https://jamaicans.com/how-much-do-you-know-about-ackee/
  • How Salt Fish Became Part of the Jamaican Diet, My Silver Sands, https://www.mysilversands.com/content.aspx?sPageName=11_03_17-salt-fish-jamaican-diet&nId=661
  • Ackee and Saltfish Is the National Dish of Jamaica, The Daily Meal, https://www.thedailymeal.com/best-recipes/ackee-and-saltfish-national-dish-jamaica
  • The ackee controversy - fact and fiction | Lead Stories, Jamaica Gleaner, https://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20121009/lead/lead92.html

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