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Ackee 001.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Sapindaceae
Genus: Blighia
B. sapida
Binomial name
Blighia sapida

Cupania sapida Voigt

The ackee, also known as achee, akee, ackee apple or ayee (Blighia sapida) is a fruit of the Sapindaceae soapberry family, as are the lychee and the longan. It is native to tropical West Africa.[1][2] The scientific name honours Captain William Bligh who took the fruit from Jamaica to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793. [1] The English common name is derived from the West African Akan akye fufo.[3]

Although having a long-held reputation as being poisonous with potential fatalities,[4] the fruit arils are renowned as "delicious" when ripe, prepared properly, and cooked,[5] and are a feature of various Caribbean cuisines.[1] Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica and is considered one of the country's best delicacies.[5]


Ackee is an evergreen tree that grows about 10 metres tall, with a short trunk and a dense crown.[1] The leaves are paripinnately,[6] compound 15–30 centimetres (5.9–11.8 in) long, with 6–10 elliptical to oblong leathery leaflets. Each leaflet is 8–12 centimetres (3.1–4.7 in) long and 5–8 centimetres (2.0–3.1 in) wide. The inflorescences are fragrant, up to 20 cm long, with unisexual flowers that bloom during warm months.[7] Each flower has five greenish-white petals, which are fragrant.[1][8]

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, each partly surrounded by soft, creamy or spongy, white to yellow flesh — the aril having a nut-like flavor and texture of scrambled eggs.[1][6] The fruit typically weighs 100–200 grams (3.5–7.1 oz).[6]

Origin and culinary use[edit]

Ackee and saltfish, a traditional Jamaican dish

Imported to Jamaica from West Africa before 1773,[1][9] the use of ackee in Jamaican cuisine is prominent. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica,[5] and ackee and saltfish is considered by many to be the unofficial national dish.[10]

The ackee is allowed to open fully before picking in order to eliminate toxicity. When it has "yawned" or "smiled", the seeds are discarded and the fresh, firm arils are parboiled in salted water or milk, and may be fried in butter to create a delicious dish.[1] In Caribbean cooking, they may be cooked with codfish and vegetables, or may be added to stew, curry, soup or rice with seasonings.[1]


Hypoglycin A

The unripened or inedible portions of the fruit contain the toxin hypoglycin A and hypoglycin B, known as "soapberry toxins".[4][11] Hypoglycin A is found in both the seeds and the arils, while hypoglycin B is found only in the seeds.[6] These two molecules are converted in the body to methylenecyclopropylacetic acid (MCPA), and are toxic with potential lethality.[4] MCPA and hypoglycin A inhibit several enzymes involved in the breakdown of acyl CoA compounds, often binding irreversibly to coenzyme A, carnitine and carnitine acyltransferases I and II,[12] reducing their bioavailability and consequently inhibiting beta oxidation of fatty acids. Glucose stores are consequently depleted leading to hypoglycemia[13] and a condition called Jamaican vomiting sickness.[1][11] These effects occur only when the unripe fruit is consumed.[1][11][14]

Though ackee is used widely in traditional dishes, research on its potential hypoglycin toxicity has been sparse and preliminary, requiring evaluation in well-designed clinical research to better understand its pharmacology, food uses, and methods for detoxification.[15]


The ackee fruit is canned and was once a significant export product from Jamaica, but in 2019, was mainly for the canned product exported to markets for expatriated Jamaicans.[5]

Other uses[edit]

The fruit has varied uses in West Africa and in rural areas of the Caribbean Islands, including use of its "soap" properties as a laundering agent or fish poison.[1] The fragrant flowers may be used as decoration or cologne, and the durable heartwood used for construction, pilings, oars, paddles and casks.[1] In African traditional medicine, the ripe arils, leaves or bark were used to treat minor ailments.[1]

Vernacular names in African languages[edit]

Language Word Meaning
Bambara finsan akee apple
Kabiye kpɩ́zʋ̀ʋ̀ akee apple
Yoruba language Nigeria isin Dagaare ( Language of Dagaaba in Ghana) (Kyira)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Morton, JF (1987). "Ackee; Blighia sapida K. Konig". The Center for New Crops and Plant Products, at Purdue University; In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL; p. 269–271. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Blighia sapida". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  3. ^ Metcalf, Allan (1999). The World in So Many Words. ISBN 0-395-95920-9.
  4. ^ a b c Isenberg, Samantha L.; Carter, Melissa D.; Hayes, Shelby R.; Graham, Leigh Ann; Johnson, Darryl; Mathews, Thomas P.; Harden, Leslie A.; Takeoka, Gary R.; Thomas, Jerry D.; Pirkle, James L.; Johnson, Rudolph C. (13 July 2016). "Quantification of toxins in soapberry (Sapindaceae) arils: Hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 64 (27): 5607–5613. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.6b02478. ISSN 0021-8561. PMC 5098216. PMID 27367968.
  5. ^ a b c d "Ackee". Jamaican Information Service. 2019. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Vinken Pierre; Bruyn, GW (1995). Intoxications of the Nervous System. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Science B.V. ISBN 0-444-81284-9.
  7. ^ Llamas, Kristen (2003). Tropical Flowering Plants: A Guide to Identification and Cultivation. Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-585-3.
  8. ^ Riffle, Robert (1998). The Tropical Look. Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-422-9.
  9. ^ "This is Jamaica". National Symbols of Jamaica. Archived from the original on 19 June 2006. Retrieved 4 June 2006.
  10. ^ "Top 10 National Dishes". National Geographic Traveller. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Isenberg, Samantha L.; Carter, Melissa D.; Graham, Leigh Ann; Mathews, Thomas P.; Johnson, Darryl; Thomas, Jerry D.; Pirkle, James L.; Johnson, Rudolph C. (2 September 2015). "Quantification of metabolites for assessing human exposure to soapberry toxins hypoglycin A and methylenecyclopropylglycine". Chemical Research in Toxicology. 28 (9): 1753–1759. doi:10.1021/acs.chemrestox.5b00205. ISSN 0893-228X. PMC 4592145. PMID 26328472.
  12. ^ Kumar, Parveen J. (2006). Clinical Medicine (5 ed.). Saunders (W.B.) Co Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7020-2579-2.
  13. ^ SarDesai, Vishwanath (2003). Introduction to Clinical Nutrition. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc. ISBN 0-8247-4093-9.
  14. ^ Andrea Goldson (16 November 2005). "The ackee fruit (Blighia sapida) and its associated toxic effects". The Science Creative Quarterly.
  15. ^ Sinmisola, Aloko; Oluwasesan, Bello M.; Chukwuemeka, Azubuike P. (10 May 2019). "Blighia sapida K.D. Koenig: A review on its phytochemistry, pharmacological and nutritional properties". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 235: 446–459. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2019.01.017. ISSN 0378-8741. PMID 30685434.

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