Also known as ankye, achee, akee, ackee apple or ayee. Most of us know that although we think of the tomato as a vegetable, it’s a fruit. It’s the same with the ackee. Technically, it’s a fruit, but it’s cooked and used as a vegetable.
In fact, it’s the national fruit of Jamaica and plays a starring role in the country’s national unofficial dish: ackee and saltfish. However, it was imported to the country from West Africa before 1773.
What is Ackee Fruit?
Ackee fruit grows on evergreen trees and is available throughout the year, most abundantly in Jamaica, where it is so revered, it’s the national fruit. They grow on a tropical evergreen tree that’s native to West Africa.
Its fruit is fully developed, ripe, and suitable for cooking when the pods are bright red and they split open easily to expose the edible fruit inside. Jamaicans will often say that the fruit will “yawn” or “smile”—open naturally, on its own—before it’s ready to be picked from the tree. The pod opens to expose three or four cream-coloured sections of flesh called arils underneath large, glossy black seeds. The arils are what you eat.
Ackee requires a little bit of prep work before it can be eaten, but it’s not strenuous. Simply remove the black seeds from the flesh, along with the red lining on each section of flesh. Discard these parts—what you want is the flesh itself. Rinse the flesh in tap water and drain it well before you use it in cooking.
What Does Ackee Fruit Taste Like?
According to amazingackee Ackees are firm and oily to the touch when raw and soften when cooked. You may have heard it described as being like scrambled eggs but the appearance in some preparations aside, the taste is nothing like eggs and neither is the texture.
Once cooked it is smooth and tends to melt in your mouth. The two descriptions that come closest are “cheese fruit” and “vegetable marrow” both of which highlight the fruit’s creaminess (this is what makes it great for creamy sauces).
In some baking, it is found to be tending towards having a nutty flavour close to peanut butter, and in custards, the sweetness of the fruit shines through taking you to yet another dimension they say!
Where Can I Buy Ackee?
Ackee production is widespread in Jamaica, and the country cans and exports the fruit all over the world. You aren’t likely to find it fresh in your country. Some countries ban importing it fresh due it’s hypoglycin content
Why all this precaution? Unripe ackee, including both pods and seeds, can cause something called Jamaican vomiting sickness due to its hypoglycin content. Hypoglycin is an unnatural amino acid that isn’t destroyed in the canning process—thus the semi-ban on canned ackee in some countries. This risk is known only to unripe ackee. If the pods are bright red and split open easily, they’re typically ripe and illness is not a risk.
If you do manage to purchase canned ackee, be sure to drain it completely. It’s usually packed in brine. After you’ve added it to whatever you’re cooking, stir the pot only once, gently, so as to not break up the flesh.
Nutrition and Benefits
Ackee is a good source of fibre, protein, vitamin A and C, copper, magnesium, calcium, and iron. It also happens to be higher in fat than you might expect from something thought of a vegetable but is really a fruit; about 15 grams in a half a cup, but none of it is saturated fat.