Blighia sapida is an obscure fruit tree to most Singaporeans. It is commonly known as the Ackee, Akee, akee apple or Achee. Native to to tropical West Africa, it is a member of the Sapindaceae family, in which common fruits such as the rambutan, lychee and the longan also belong.
Unlike the dessert fruits we normally eat, the fruit which are produced in clusters by this tree cannot be eaten in the same way. Each fruit is shaped like a bell and starts out green in colour and turns red when ripe. The ripe fruits are used and only when they have split open into three segments, revealing three white to yellow aril covered seeds. The seeds are black and shiny when the aril around them are removed.
Note that only the aril from the ripe fruits have food uses and are used in a variety of meat dishes. Some preparation work must be done before it can be consumed. Levels of a toxic alkaloid, hypoglycin A, found in the akee aril peak at maturity but rapidly diminishes to non-detectable levels in an opened fruit making it safe for consumption.
Hypoglycin A limits the body’s ability to release of glucose that is stored in the liver and consumption of unripe or unproperly prepared akee aril gives rise to the Jamaican vomiting sickness and even death. Akee fruit arils must be first cleaned, washed and then boiled in water for at least 20 min. The water is then discarded. The boiling process helps to rid the arils of toxic alkaloids.
Akee has high nutritional value and the oil in the 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 dried seeds, fruit bark and leaves are used medicinally.
The genus name of this plant was named after William Bligh of the HMS Bounty, who carried many plants to different parts of the world, this tree is grown and appreciated in Jamaica and the West Indies. He apparently took the fruit from Jamaica to England in 1793. The fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa 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. It is the national fruit of Jamaica.
Blighia sapida is an evergreen tree that grows about 10 m tall, with a short trunk and a dense crown. The leaves are pinnate and leathery. The tree produces clusters of white, fragrant flowers and can be propagated by seed or stem-cuttings. Like many other fruit trees, the akee tree prefers to grow in a well-drained and sunny location.