Simply put, ackee is a fruit.
Although the pear shaped pods that grow on the ackee tree are actually the fruit, when we talk about cooking or eating ackee we are referring specifically to the arils – the edible part of the fruit (see the diagram below).
Ackees are firm and oily to the touch when raw and soften when cooked. You may have heard it described as tasting like scrambled eggs but appearance in some preparations aside, the taste is nothing like eggs and neither is the texture. Once cooked they are smooth and tend to melt in your mouth. The two descriptions (in my opinion) that come closest are “cheese fruit” and “vegetable marrow” both of which highlight the fruit’s creaminess (this is what make them great for creamy sauces, see: Mac ‘n Kees).
In some baking I’ve found it to tend towards having a nutty flavour close to peanut butter, and in custards the sweetness of the fruit shines through taking you to yet another dimension.
Some other names for ackee are: Akye fufo, Ankye or Guinep (this one is particularly funny/confusing since there is a different fruit called guinep in Jamaica. I’ve witnessed on social media a Bajan (Barbadian) tagging a picture of guinep “ackee”, with some very perplexed Jamaicans commenting that the person must obviously not know what the heck they are talking about 😆)
Ackee & Jamaica
The ackee tree is an evergreen native to West Africa that was brought to Jamaica in the 18th century most likely on a slave ship. The trees are found all over the island with Clarendon and St. Elizabeth being the main growing regions. On a drive through Kingston one day, my mom and I noted that almost all the yards along the main road on Washington Boulevard had at least one ackee tree along with a breadfruit tree and/or a pear (avocado) tree (what a blessing when all of those are bearing! 😍)
Whereas it is poorly exploited for food in it’s homeland; it is widely consumed in Jamaica where it is the national fruit and one of the main components in the national dish: Ackee and Saltfish.
Types of Ackee?
In Jamaica ackee is classified according to characteristics of the aril as either “butter” or “cheese” ackee. The aril of butter ackee is yellow in colour, soft, creamy and akin to butter; it mashes very easily when cooked. Cheese ackee on the other hand is pale cream in colour and firm, like cheese; it stands up better to being tossed around and will retain it’s shape. Check out this post: Butter & Cheese Ackee
Fun fact: Jamaica is the only country that processes ackee commercially for export! This began in the 1950s (though there were some bumps and hiccups along the way – some of these issues along with toxicity is discussed here).
In the year 2016 ackee exports to the United States were valued at US$20 million; to give a little perspective: in 2000 exports were valued at US$4.4 million, wowza!
Photos used and credited above are the property of Dr. Sylvia Adjoa Mitchell, Senior Lecturer, Medicinal Plant Research Group, The Biotechnology Centre, UWI Mona, Jamaica
They are reproduced here with her permission for educational purposes.
Source: Mitchell, Sylvia & Webster, SA & Ahmad, MH. (2008). Ackee (Blighia sapida) – Jamaica’s top fruit. Jamaica Journal. 31. 84-89.
To read the full paper, click here to access the link to download it on Researchgate