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Jamaican Ackee
It's Versatility and History

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jamaican ackee

Jamaican Ackee, contributed

According to one writer, if there was a code word for all Jamaicans it probably would be Ackee. Not only is ackee a key ingredient our national dish - 'ackee and saltfish', it is also officially the national fruit and a national symbol of Jamaica.


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The tree is not endemic to the Caribbean but rather, was introduced from West Africa in the 18th century during the slave trade. Its name is derived from the West African Akye fufo.

It was first introduced to Jamaica, then later to Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados and others. It was subsequently introduced to Florida in the United States.

jamaican ackee

The plant was named Blighia sapida in honour of Captain William Bligh who, in 1793, took samples to Kew Gardens in South London.

Ackee trees are found all across Jamaica. There are two bearing seasons: between January to March and June to August- although my yard tree appears to bear right throughout the year!

The fruit turns red on reaching maturity and splits open with continued exposure to the sun.

Traditionally it is at this time that the ackees are harvested and the edible portion (the arilli) removed and cleaned in preparation for cooking.

This delicacy is enjoyed by many at breakfast or as an entree. Along with saltfish (cod) used in our national dish, Jamaican ackee is a favourite for many when served with pork, salted mackerel, tinned mackerel, etc.

There is now also ackee quiche, ackee stuffed peppers, cream of ackee soup, ackee stuffed chicken leg, ackee pizza, and the now - increasingly popular ackee punch!

The canned product is exported to ethnic markets worldwide and continues to be enjoyed by both visitors to the island and Jamaicans residing overseas.

ackee tree in jamaica

Ackees on tree in Jamaica

In terms other uses, the oil of the ackee arils contains many important nutrients, especially fatty acids. Linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids are the primary fatty acids found in the fruit.

The dried seeds, fruit bark and leaves are used medicinally while the fruit is used to produce soap in some parts of Africa.

In 2006, one of our local communities, Linstead in St. Catherine, hosted the Inaugural Ackee Festival, where all types and varieties of preparations of ackee were showcased.

So although it is not indigenous to Jamaica, it has remarkable historic and cultural associations here.

And by the way other names and variant spellings include Akee, akee apple, Achee, or vegetable brain!

acke pod

References:
1. "Jamaican Ackee", The Department of Chemistry, UWI Mona. .
2. "Ackee", Wikipedia.com 3. "The Ackee Fruit", The Science Creative Quarterly.
3. "Ackee", About.com.
4. "A Book Dedicated to Ackee", Jamaica Gleaner.
5. "Ackee Festival for Linstead", Jamaica Information Service.

Originally Posted: 9/25/2009

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