The Ackee or Akee (Blighia sapida) is a member of the Sapindaceae (soapberry family), native to tropical West Africa in Cameroon, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
It is related to the lychee and the longan, and is an evergreen tree that grows about 10 metres tall, with a short trunk and a dense crown. The leaves are pinnate, leathery, compound, 15–30 centimetres long, with 6–10 elliptical obovate-oblong leaflets. Each leaflet is 8–12 centimetres long and 5–8 centimetres broad.
The flowers are unisexual and fragrant. They have five petals, are greenish-white and 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 or spongy, white to yellow flesh—arilli.The fruit typically weighs 100–200 grams.
The scientific name honours Captain William Bligh who took the fruit from Jamaica to England in 1793 and introduced it to science. The fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa (probably on a slave ship) before 1778. Since then it has become a major feature of various Caribbean cuisines, and is also cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas elsewhere around the world. The term 'ackee' originated from the Twi language. Other names and variant spellings include Ackee, Akee, akee apple, Achee, or vegetable brain.
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 the fruit. Ackee oil makes an important contribution to the diet of many Jamaicans.
The fruit of the Ackee is not edible in its entirety. Only the inner, fleshy yellow arils are consumed. The shiny black seeds at the tips of the arils, and the bright red pod enclosing 3 or 4 arils are discarded. Ackees must be harvested, prepared and cooked properly. Ackee pods should be allowed to ripen and open naturally on the tree before picking. Prior to cooking, the ackee arils must be cleaned, washed, boiled and the water discarded: unripe ackees and the inner red tissue of the ripe ackee arils contain potent alkaloid toxins (Hypoglycins A and B) which can produce a syndrome of vomiting, seizures and fatal hypoglycemia known as Jamaican vomiting sickness. Though it may be poisonous when improperly prepared, ackee has high nutritional value and is rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin A, zinc, and protein. They also make delicious fare when sauteed with onions, tomatoes and salted codfish in the Jamaican national dish and perennial dinner favorite "ackee and saltfish".
The canning plant in Port-au-Prince is supplied with fruit from three commercial orchards on the outskirts of the city.