The ackee, also known as achee, akee apple or akee (Blighia sapida) is a member of the Sapindaceae (soapberry family), native to tropical West Africa in Cameroon, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
It is related to the lychee and the longan, and is an evergreen tree that grows about 10 metres tall, with a short trunk and a dense crown. The leaves are pinnate, leathery, compound, 15–30 centimetres long, with 6–10 elliptical obovate-oblong leaflets. Each leaflet is 8–12 centimetres long and 5–8 centimetres broad..
The flowers are unisexual and fragrant. They have five petals, are greenish-white and bloom during warm months. 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, surrounded by soft, creamy or spongy, white to yellow flesh—arilli.
The scientific name honours 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 common name is derived from the West African Akye fufo. The term ackee originated from the Akan language.
The fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa (probably on a slave ship) before 1778. Since then it has become a major feature of various Caribbean cuisines, and is also cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas elsewhere around the world.
Cultivation and Uses
Although native to West Africa, the use of ackee in food is especially prominent in Jamaican cuisine. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, and ackee and saltfish is the national dish. Ackee and Codfish is ranked number 2 in the world by National Geographic survey of National dishes around the world. Recently, ackee wine has been introduced in Jamaica and though it has resulted in a majority of curious and adventurous Jamaicans gravitating towards the newly introduced product it still has not appealed to others.
Ackee was introduced to Jamaica and later to Haiti, Cuba, Barbados and others. It was later introduced to Florida in the United States.
Ackee pods are allowed to ripen and open naturally on the tree before picking. Prior to cooking, the ackee arils are cleaned and washed. The arils are then boiled for approximately 60 minutes and the water discarded.
The dried seeds, fruit, bark, and leaves are used medicinally.