Ackee is a fruit, originally native to tropical Western Africa in Cameroon, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo. The fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa in 1778. Since then it has become a feature of various Caribbean cuisines. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, and Ackee and Saltfish is the national dish.
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 fruit of the Ackee is not edible in its entirety. Only the inner, fleshy yellow arils are consumed. The shiny black seeds at the tips of the arils, and the bright red pod enclosing 3 or 4 arils are discarded. If improperly eaten, it can cause Jamaican Vomiting Sickness – which can lead to coma or death. Unripe Ackee fruit contains a poison called hypoglycin, so preparers must be careful to wait until the fruit’s protective pods turn red and open naturally.
The Hypoglycin toxins in unripe Ackee fruits limit the body’s ability to release the backup supply of glucose that is stored in the liver. That supply is essential because once the body uses up the sugar immediately available in the bloodstream than it depends on this glucose to keep blood sugar levels normal until the next meal.
The inedible part of Ackee and leaves are used medicinally. It is also used to produce soap in some parts of Africa. It is also used as a fish poison.