The ackee, also known as achee, ackee apple or ayee (Blighia sapida) is a fruit of the Sapindaceae soapberry family, as are the lychee and the longan. It is native to tropical West Africa. The scientific name honors Captain William Bligh who took the fruit from Jamaica to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793, and introduced it to science. The English common name is derived from the West African Akan akye fufo.
Cupania sapida Voigt
Although having a long-held reputation as being poisonous with potential fatalities, the fruit arils are renowned as "delicious" when ripe, prepared properly, and cooked, and are a feature of various Caribbean cuisines. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica and is considered one of the country's best delicacies.
Ackee is an evergreen tree that grows about 10 metres tall, with a short trunk and a dense crown. The leaves are paripinnately, compound 15–30 centimetres (5.9–11.8 in) long, with 6–10 elliptical to oblong leathery leaflets. Each leaflet is 8–12 centimetres (3.1–4.7 in) long and 5–8 centimetres (2.0–3.1 in) wide. The inflorescences are fragrant, up to 20 cm long, with unisexual flowers that bloom during warm months. Each flower has five greenish-white petals, which are fragrant.
The fruit is pear-shaped. When it ripens, it turns from green to a bright red to yellow-orange, and splits open to reveal three large, shiny black seeds, each partly surrounded by soft, creamy or spongy, white to yellow flesh — the aril having a nut-like flavor and texture of scrambled eggs. The fruit typically weighs 100–200 grams (3.5–7.1 oz).
Origin and culinary useEdit
The akee is allowed to open fully before picking. When it has "yawned", the seeds are discarded and the fresh, firm arils are parboiled in salted water or milk, and may be fried in butter to create a delicious dish. In Caribbean cooking, they may be cooked with codfish and vegetables, or may be added to stew, curry, soup or rice with seasonings.
The unripened or inedible portions of the fruit contain the toxin hypoglycin A and hypoglycin B, known as "soapberry toxins". Hypoglycin A is found in both the seeds and the arils, while hypoglycin B is found only in the seeds. These two molecules are converted in the body to methylenecyclopropylacetic acid (MCPA), and are toxic with potential lethality. MCPA and hypoglycin A inhibit several enzymes involved in the breakdown of acyl CoA compounds, often binding irreversibly to coenzyme A, carnitine and carnitine acyltransferases I and II, reducing their bioavailability and consequently inhibiting beta oxidation of fatty acids. Glucose stores are consequently depleted leading to hypoglycemia and a condition called Jamaican vomiting sickness. These effects occur only when the unripe fruit is consumed.
Though ackee is used widely in traditional dishes, research on its potential hypoglycin toxicity has been sparse and preliminary, requiring evaluation in well-designed clinical research to better understand its pharmacology, food uses, and methods for detoxification.
The fruit has varied uses in West Africa and in rural areas of the Caribbean Islands, including use of its "soap" properties as a laundering agent or fish poison. The fragrant flowers may be used as decoration or cologne, and the durable heartwood used for construction, pilings, oars, paddles and casks. In African traditional medicine, the ripe arils, leaves or bark were used to treat minor ailments.
Vernacular names in African languagesEdit
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