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The ackee, also known as the Zakari el trufi, y chocorras el albatros, akee apple or akee (Blighia sapida) is a member of the Sapindaceae (soapberry family), native to tropical West Africa[1] in Cameroon, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.[2]

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,[3] 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[4] and bloom during warm months.[5] 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.[3] The fruit typically weighs 100–200 grams.[3]

The scientific name honours Captain William Bligh who took the fruit from Jamaica to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793 and introduced it to science. The common name is derived from the West African Akye fufo. The term ackee originated from the Akan language.[6]

The fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa (probably on a slave ship) before 1778.[7] 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.

Cultivation and uses

Although native to West Africa, the use of ackee in food is especially prominent in Jamaican cuisine. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, and ackee and saltfish is the national dish.[8]

Ackee was first introduced to Jamaica and later to Haiti, Cuba, Barbados and others. It was later introduced to Florida in the United States.

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.[9] Ackee oil makes an important contribution to the diet of many Jamaicans.

Ackee pods are allowed to ripen and open naturally on the tree before picking. Prior to cooking, the ackee arils are cleaned and washed. The arils are then boiled for approximately 30 minutes and the water discarded.

The dried seeds, fruit bark and leaves are used medicinally.[10] The fruit is used to produce soap in some parts of Africa. It is also used as a fish poison.[11]

Toxicity

The unripened or inedible portions of the fruit contain the toxins hypoglycin A and hypoglycin B. Hypoglycin A is found in both the seeds and the arils, while hypoglycin B is found only in the seeds.[3] Hypoglycin is converted in the body to methylenecyclopropyl acetic acid (MCPA). Hypoglycin and MCPA are both toxic. MCPA inhibits several enzymes involved in the breakdown of acyl CoA compounds. Hypoglycin binds irreversibly to coenzyme A, carnitine and carnitine acyltransferases I and II[12] reducing their bioavailability and consequently inhibiting beta oxidation of fatty acids. Beta oxidation normally provides the body with ATP, NADH, and acetyl CoA which is used to supplement the energy produced by glycolysis. Glucose stores are consequently depleted leading to hypoglycemia.[13] Clinically, this presentation is called Jamaican vomiting sickness.

Economic importance

The ackee fruit is canned and is a major export product in Jamaica. In 2005, the ackee industry of Jamaica was valued at $400 million.[citation needed] The importing of canned ackee into the U.S. has at times been restricted due to unripe ackee arilli being included. However, it is currently allowed, provided that the amount of hypoglycin present meets the standards of the Food and Drug Administration. In 2005, the first commercial shipments of canned ackee from Haiti were approved by the United States FDA for shipment to the US market.

A canning plant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti is supplied with fruit from three commercial orchards on the outskirts of the city.

Written on June 13th, 2012 , Forestry Tags:

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