Essential Guide to Ackee
Ackee is still a relatively unknown ingredient in most households in the UK.
But, take a trip to Jamaica, however, and the story is rather different. This Jamaican national fruit originates from West Africa, first making the long journey across the Atlantic in the 18th century. Ackee’s name therefore, has similar origins — deriving from a Ghanaian Twi language word ‘Ankye’.
With a distinctive red hue, ackee fruit comes from the sapindaceae family, the same family as lychee fruit. Ackee grows in clusters on an evergreen tree, and as the fruit opens, three large black seeds are revealed. However, its the yellow flesh (the aril) that surrounds these seeds inside of the fruit, which is the edible part.
So far, so good. But if you find yourself picking your own ackee, there is one thing to be aware of — you must make sure it’s ripe! Unripe ackee fruit can cause Jamaican vomiting sickness, if eaten before it turns red and opens naturally. It contains hypoglycin, which when unripe, is poisonous. This dissipates when the fruit is ripe and cooked. So, unless you’re planning on harvesting your own ackee, you should be fine.
What does it taste like?
Ackee may be a fruit, but due to its creamy texture, ackee’s often cooked the way a vegetable would be. It’s often paired with savoury rather than sweet flavours.
Typically, its served with codfish in the traditional Jamaican dish of ‘ackee and saltfish’, but its uses don’t stop there. Ackee is commonly used in fritters, quiches, soups and salads.
For plant based eaters, it also has another intriguing quality. Vegan chefs have discovered its ability to replicate eggs in a scrambled egg recipe, which has seen it become something of a cult hit.
It doesn’t take much time or skill to turn a tin of ackee fruit into a scrambled dish of dreams. The most important pantry ingredient you need to have in the cupboard is the vegan staple — kala namak. This rock salt has an overpowering egg-like aroma that once you’ve smelt once; you’ll be unlikely to forget in a hurry.
Most recipes for scrambled ackee use nutritional yeast and other usual seasonings to help with flavouring the dish. But, go easy on the salt, as tins of ackee tend to come in salted water, and adding extra salt could over-power the dish. Simply drain the water and empty the contents into a frying pan, breaking the fruit into smaller chunks as required (in much the same way as you might when making scrambled tofu).
According to information from the Pan American Health Organisation, ackee is a great source of stearic, linoleic and palmitic acids, which make up around 55 per cent of the total fatty acids in the fruit. It has no saturated fat or cholesterol, which can aid the lowering of blood pressure and with a high amount of riboflavin, it can help with red blood cell production.
In addition to this, the fibre content of ackee can help to maintain blood glucose levels, and supports a healthy digestive system with the riboflavin optimising the metabolic levels in the body. The potassium levels in ackee enable relaxation of blood vessels improving blood flow around the body and aiding with prevention of cardiovascular conditions.
Not just good for you
Ackee may be known for being a kitchen ingredient, but the tree isn’t just used for the edible fruit. The tree is a popular garden feature. The wood from the tree is a popular furniture material, and used for tools in its native Ghana. Extracts from ackee have been used for medicinal purposes, and the flowers have been used as a perfume ingredient.
If it’s food ideas you’re looking for, though, we’ve got two mouth-watering ackee recipes that’ll get you running to the supermarket to grab a tin from the world foods aisle to have a go yourself.