A is for Ackee


One of the first things I noticed on the fruit stalls around Kingston was this odd-shaped fruit:

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They are easy to spot from a distance with those distinctive black seeds busting out of what looks like an overripe casing.  What on earth were they?  I learnt quite quickly that they are the treasured Jamaican ackee fruit, which is used to make the national breakfast dish, Ackee and Saltfish.  More on that later.

Then I started to notice Ackee trees around town.  The unripe bell shaped fruits hang from trees everywhere.  They aren’t ready to be picked until they split open and the black seeds are on display, as they are poisonous before they’re ripe.  I understand that you can’t buy them fresh (or canned even) in the US as the FDA have classifed ackee as poisionous and even the canning process doesn’t destroy the toxins if the ackee being processed were picked underripe.  However, this is not a concern here as locals know very well how to pick and process them.

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The trees aren’t native to Jamaica but come originally from West Africa, probably along with the slaves that were also imported from there.  Fruit grows abundantly and can produce a harvest all year long.  I’ve read that the wood is termite resistant, so perhaps that’s another reason that so many people have them in their yards.

Preparation of the national dish, Ackee and Saltfish, starts by removing the fleshy arils from the open husks (taking care to also remove the toxic red membrane) and boiling them until they’re soft.

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Shucked  arils ready for the pot

The arils look a little scrambled eggs when they are cooked and have a similar mild flavour and texture.  They are mixed with flaked salt cod, onions, tomatoes and green peppers to make the famous dish.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and its pretty good!

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Ackee and Saltfish – ready for your Jamaican breakfast

12 thoughts on “A is for Ackee

    • Thanks! I’ve actually barely scratched the surface of unusual fruits here.. mostly they are just around for a short while and I haven’t gotten to try them. But ackee is common enough it made it to my plate!

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  1. While I find this very interesting, from the history of the tress to the national dish to the pretty shape of the unopened fruit, I have to say I find the burst-open fruit positively frightening! It looks like googly eyes dangling out of sockets and/or scary bugs! Shiver!

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  2. It’s nice to learn about ackee – as well as why it is not found in the US. My husband and I absolutely adored in on our Nigril honeymoon in 1981. Nic hearing from you.,
    Claudia

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  3. We were SO lucky, as we had our first breakfast this time at Jamaica and we got “Ackee and Saltfish” with Festival. I love Ackee and Callaloo and all the vegetables and fruits and dishes in Jamaica (exept the Chicken-Foot-Soup 😀 )

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  4. Loved your coverage of ackee. Come to think of it, the Jamaican fruit list is so long haha.. ackee, June plum, coolie plum and hog plum (although many can’t remember which is which), guinep, starapple (different from star fruit), roseapple, custard apple, Otaheite apple, sweetsop, soursop, and don’t get me started on the types of mangoes

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