Trying new food is fun. Or at least it should be and it is one of the most fun parts of travelling- getting to try local goodies that are only available far away from home. This of course is therefore not particularly useful to you, but it's' interesting and will definitely pique your curiosity.
Ackee is awesome and I would love to lift it up into the realm of one of my favourite foods but it grows a little too far away for that. If it were eggs that kept me from being totally plant-based in my diet, then ackee would surely be the best solution. Ripe, boiled and then pan fried ackee is like the perfect mix of scrambled eggs meets firm avocado for texture. Forget tofu scramble- ackee fruit sauteed with some onions is the best scrambled egg replacement ever.
It grows on trees and as it ripens turns from green to red and then splits open revealing it's ripeness inside. The Ackee, also called Vegetable Brain, Achee, or Akee Apple is a member of the Sapindaceae (soapberry family). Why do you care about the genus of this fruit? Well it is the same family as lychee, maple and also the fruit that bears my favourite laundry soap of all time- the Soap Nuts! The fruit is native to tropical West Africa in Cameroon, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo which is, not surprisingly, of roughly the same latitude as Jamaica. There's a rhyme for every reason.
The fruit of the ackee is not edible in its entirety. You have to wait for the pods to ripen and bust open. Then you can easily extract the fleshy yellow bits.
The edible yellow bits are called the arils- and must be boiled for 30 minutes and then we dump out that water. I am all over the raw food love but this one has to be cooked. Raw ackees and the inner red tissue of the ripe ackee arils contain potent phytochemicals that, if consumed raw, can produce all sorts of fun barfyness and fatal blood sugar drops- a condition known as Jamaican vomiting sickness. Hmm... could they be more descriptive in naming that condition.
Though it may be poisonous when improperly prepared, cook it and you'll get the goodness. Ackee has high nutritional value and is rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin A, zinc, and protein.
Now as with all whole foods (except maybe the potato), there are some really fantastic medicinal uses of Ackee. Traditional Jamaican treatments using Ackee include:
- Seed extracts are used in the treatment of parasites.
- The ripe Jamaican ackee fruit is consumed to lower fever and to control dysentery.
- A poultice of crushed ackee leaves is applied to the forehead to alleviate headaches
- The skin of the fruit can be used to heal ulcers.
Incidentally, I did see that ackee can be available in cans over on this side far away from the Caribbean Sea. I am not a fan of canned food in any way, and can't guarantee how it might taste out of a can, but if you are really curious, I'll let it slide this once.
Bye, bye scrambled eggs, hello Ackee. If ever in Jamaica or other places where you see ackee in the market- give this a try.
Yield: Serves 4
- ½ lb. Saltfish (usually preserved/salted cod)
- 1 dozen ackees
- 1 small onion, chopped
- pinch of thyme
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small red sweet pepper , chopped
- 2-3 Tbs coconut or olive oil
- Soak saltfish in water for a few hours to remove some of the salt, Rinse thoroughly
- Clean the ackee. Remove the seeds and all traces of interior red pit from the ackees. Wash ackee fruits thoroughly (rinsing several times)
- Place Ackee in pot of water and boil for 30 mins. Drain, cover, and put aside.
- Remove any bones from the fish.
- In a small pot or frying pan, sauté chopped onions and sweet peppers.
- Remove half of the fried onions and peppers
- Add saltfish and the ackees.
- Suatee together for 6-8 minutes.
- Serve as a side dish, on toast, in a wrap, or over salad.