Is Ackee Good For You? Safety, Nutrition and Recipes

A friend recently uploaded a picture of ackee apple on her status and it reminded me that this is the period of the year (Early rains around May/June) when this fruit can be found ripened in many fruit gardens or random yards with the ackee tree.

The ackee apple otherwise called ‘Akee’ is famously known in SouthWestern Nigeria as ‘Ishin’. It is native to West Africa and in the 18th Century, it was taken over to Jamaica by Captain William Bligh hence, the origin of its botanical name, Blighia Sapida. In Jamaica today, the fruit is a national fruit usually used to make a delicacy known as ackee and saltfish.

Ackee is highly nutritional; rich in unsaturated fat and a good amount of fibre, contains high protein content, serves as a good source of vitamins A, B and C, zinc, calcium as well as potassium.

Ackee Tree

My earliest memories of this Jamaican fruit characterized the fruit as a poisonous one which is not to be eaten. However, meeting the fruit again in 2019 and witnessing people eat it delightfully, I became curious about the facts of this fruit. So, I carried out my own research.

Dating back to the nineteenth century, the ackee apple is known as a richly edible but highly toxic fruit when unripe. It causes health complications generally termed ‘Jamaican Vomiting Sickness’ because of its high hypoglycin content.

“Hassel and Reyle in 1954 first isolated the two toxic constituents, hypoglycin A and B from the aril (fleshy pulp) and seeds of the unripe ackee, respectively. These toxic constituents were called hypoglycin because of their ability to induce severe hypoglycemia. The unripe ackee fruit contains hypoglycin A in a concentration 100 times higher than those in the ripe ackee fruit, whereas hypoglycin B found only in the seeds of the fruit has a less-potent hypoglycemic activity than A.” 

Katibi, Oludolapo Sherifat et al. “Ackee Fruit Poisoning in Eight Siblings: Implications for Public Health Awareness.” The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene vol. 93,5 (2015): 1122-3. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.15-0348

Jamaican Vomiting Sickness is characterized by acute gastrointestinal illness and hypoglycemia with symptoms ranging from loss of consciousness to vomiting and extreme body weakness. These complications are caused by ingestion of the unripe arils of the ackee fruit, its seeds, and husks. According to research, toxicity is dose-dependent and symptoms usually manifest within 2–48 hours of ingestion with recovery usually within 1 week. As much as there have been cases of recovery, there have also been cases of deaths resulting from the ingestion of a high amount of the fruit’s arils or seeds.

Hence, if you are questioning if ackee is good for you, the answer is, “yes, it is! As long as you eat it the right way.” Ackee fruit is poisonous when unripe. Also, the fruit seed and pod are always toxic. However, this fruit is king in Jamaica where it is used in major delicacies and in Nigeria, reports of the harmfulness of ackee are uncommon as the seed and pod are not considered consumable and its arils (fleshy pulp) are not eaten until ripened. At this time of the year when the ackee apple can be found, here are various safe ways of consuming the fruit and using its seeds;

  1. The seed of ackee is said to be used for the production of medicine and soap in certain regions such as Benin. 
  2. The fleshy pulp (aril) can be eaten raw once detached from the seed. When consumed in this manner, it has a buttery taste which some describe to be similar to the taste of scrambled egg.
  3. Ackee and Susumba ‘Gully beans’: This is a rich vegan meal that serves well for anyone who does not eat fish. It is prepared by first boiling the properly washed gully beans and ackee arils seasoned with scallions for 15- 20minutes, straining, frying with coconut oil along with chopped scallions, onions and habanero pepper, then serve along with tomatoes and carrot slices as well as quinoa. See Ackee and Susumba recipe on Youtube.

    In Nigeria, Susumba as commonly known as pea eggplant or wild eggplant (Igba igbo). It is as small as chickpeas, richly seeded and has a somewhat bitter taste. In the villages, it is enjoyed with yam or any other tuberous staple.
  4. Saltfish and Ackee: Saltfish and ackee is Jamaica’s national dish and it is prepared by thoroughly cooking the fish and garnishing with ackee shortly before serving. This recipe can be served along with dumplings or fried ripened plantain. Check the recipe here.

“In the Caribbean, salt fish is fresh, meaty white fish (typically cod) that has been preserved for longer storage by salt-curing and drying until all the moisture has been extracted.

In order to prepare salt fish for cooking, it needs to be rehydrated and most of the salt removed through a process of overnight soaking in hot water and subsequent boiling. The aim is never to remove all of the salt—enough salt should remain to provide taste, otherwise, you can end up with a bland piece of fish.”

The Spruce Eats

Lastly, in some parts of Nigeria, the fruit pulp is used to make soup just like melon seeds. It is blended and prepared using the egusi soup method.

If you are a fan of this fruit, kindly share with me how you like to enjoy ackee and try the above-stated methods if you haven’t. If you are not a fan, you can just make do with this new knowledge while you check out other Nigerian fruits.

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