Ackee is one of the most beloved trees in the Caribbean, especially to Jamaicans. It is the main part of their national dish, ackee and salt fish. But unfortunately, in many other places it has gained a reputation for being poisonous and even deadly. Though parts of it are very toxic, when it is harvested in the proper way the fruit is quite pleasant.
When my Dad first planted an ackee tree, I wanted him to cut it down. I was scared that a toddler would try to eat the unripe fruit. But when I learned more about it, I was intrigued. The alien looking fruit is not so scary as most people think.
Our ackee was started by seed. It is growing very well. It is about eight feet tall, having doubled in size since we planted it last year. We water it every now and then, and it has recently put on a lot of growth due to the rainy season starting.
Ackee is a very beautiful tree. It grows up to forty feet. Ackee has a large canopy, with small, oval shaped leaves. Its trunk grows straight and branches off at the top.
How to Prepare and Eat
The ackee tree produces bright pink pods. When they mature, they split open to reveal yellow arils attached to three black seeds. The seeds and skin of the pod is toxic and even deadly. But the arils inside are edible when the pod is split open. If they are eaten before the pod is open, they are also highly poisonous. The arils taste very good cooked with scrambled eggs. In Jamaica, they are eaten with saltfish. They are also good with rice, curried, or fried. They have a pleasant, nutty flavor.
Where Ackee Grows
Ackee grows in subtropical to tropical regions. Adult trees can not endure temperatures under 26° F. They thrive in South Florida and the Caribbean. It does well in limestone and sand, but prefers more fertile soil.
The ackee tree can be planted to provide shade. It is considered useful for soil improvement and erosion control. The ackee tree has very hard and moderately coarse wood. It is quite resistant to termite attacks, and easy to work with. The wood is used for light construction and furniture.
Ackee will also work as a way to poison your enemies. Just remember to compost the body.
Ackee can be started from seeds, but the seeds only keep a few months in the fridge and should be planted a few days after extraction. Germination starts at 2-4 weeks. The germination rate is 80%.*
Ackee trees can also be found in some nurseries. Select a healthy tree and water it regularly in preparation for planting in the ground. Plant ackee trees in full sun, and in an open place.
Ackee has also been propagated by air-layering, with good results.
Name: Ackee, Akee, Akee apple
Latin Name: Blighia sapida
Type: Fruiting tree
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Arils said to be very healthy and nutritional
Cold-hardy: Adult trees can not endure temperatures below 26° F.
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Arils, wood
Propagation: Seeds, air-layering
Taste: Pleasant, nutty
Storability: Up to three months in a fridge
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus and sodium