Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Eat Me Ripe

For years, I always thought somehow that the fruits of this tree are poisonous. But it is not quite so after all. Only under certain conditions. This is a fruit-bearing tree known as Ackee in Barbados. The ackee, also known as the Zakari el trufi, y chocorras el albatros, akee apple or akee (Blighia sapida) is a member of the Sapindaceae family, native to tropical West Africa. The common name is derived from the West African Akye fufo. The term ackee originated from the Akan language. I have never known that it is related to the lychee and the longan that I know quite well.

The flowers of the ackee are unisexual, fragrant and they 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 white to yellow flesh, the arils. The scientific name honors Captain William Bligh who took the fruit from Jamaica to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793. The ackee fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa (probably on a slave ship) before 1778.

Very prominent in Jamaican cuisine, Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, and ackee and saltfish is the national dish. The oil of the ackee arils contains many important nutrients, especially fatty acids. Linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids are the primary fatty acids found in this fruit. Ackee oil makes an important contribution to the diet of many Jamaicans.

So, why my long time fear that this fruit is poisonous? It turns out that the unripened portions of the fruit contain in large quantity the toxins hypoglycin A (found in seeds and arils) and B (found only in the seeds.) When ingested, this toxin depletes the level of glucose in blood and causes hypoglycemia, which can be fatal. Clinically, this is called the Jamaican vomiting sickness. Remember... Never eat unripe ackee fruit. If you do... Abdominal discomfort begins two to six hours, followed by sudden onset vomiting. In severe cases, profound dehydration, seizures, coma, and death may ensue. Now, you have been warned! The fruits on this tree are ready for Jamaican cooking... let's find some saltfish...

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