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Ackee 001.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
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, ackee apple or ayee (Blighia sapida) is a fruit, which is the member of the Sapindaceae (soapberry family), as are the lychee and the longan. It is native to tropical West Africa in Cameroon, Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.[1] In Yorùbá it is known as íṣin.

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 English common name is derived from the West African Akan akye fufo.[2]

The fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa before 1778.[3] 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.


Ackee is an evergreen tree that grows about 10 metres tall, with a short trunk and a dense crown.

The leaves are paripinnately[4] compound,15–30 centimetres (5.9–11.8 in) long, with 6–10 elliptical to obovate-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.[5] Each flower has five greenish-white petals[6]

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, that has the texture and consistency of scrambled eggs.[4] The fruit typically weighs 100–200 grams (3.5–7.1 oz).[4]

Cultivation and uses[edit]

Ackee and saltfish, a traditional Jamaican dish

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.[7][8] A local company even makes ackee wine.[9]

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

Ackee pods should be allowed to ripen on the tree before picking. Prior to cooking, the ackee arils are cleaned and washed. The arils are then boiled for approximately 5 minutes and the water discarded. The dried seeds, fruit, bark, and leaves are used medicinally.[10]

Poisonous effects[edit]

Hypoglycin A

The unripened or inedible portions of the fruit contain the toxin 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.[4] These two molecules are converted in the body to methylene cyclopropyl acetic acid (MCPA). Hypoglycin A and MCPA are both toxic. 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,[11] 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.[12] Clinically, this condition is called Jamaican vomiting sickness. These effects occur only when the unripe fruit is consumed.[13]

Economic importance[edit]

The ackee fruit is canned and is a major export product in Jamaica. In 2005, the ackee industry of Jamaica was valued at J$ 400 million (approximately $4.5 million in US).[14] 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.[citation needed]

Vernacular names in African languages[edit]

Language Word Meaning
Bambara finsan akee apple
Kabiye kpɩ́zʋ̀ʋ̀ akee apple


  1. ^ "Blighia sapida". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2011-10-18.
  2. ^ Metcalf, Allan (1999). The World in So Many Words. ISBN 0-395-95920-9.
  3. ^ "This is Jamaica". National Symbols of Jamaica. Archived from the original on 19 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-04.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Llamas, Kristen (2003). Tropical Flowering Plants: A Guide to Identification and Cultivation. Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-585-3.
  6. ^ Riffle, Robert (1998). The Tropical Look. Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-422-9.
  7. ^ "Top 10 National Dishes". National Geographic Traveller. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  8. ^ "National Symbols". Emancipation & Independence. Jamaica Information Service. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
  9. ^ "Eight SMEs Selected For Bold Ones Programme". 16 January 2014. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  10. ^ "Mansfeld's World Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops". Archived from the original on 18 May 2007. Retrieved 2006-06-01.
  11. ^ Kumar, Parveen J. (2006). Clinical Medicine (5 ed.). Saunders (W.B.) Co Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7020-2579-2.
  12. ^ SarDesai, Vishwanath (2003). Introduction to Clinical Nutrition. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc. ISBN 0-8247-4093-9.
  14. ^ "Knowledge for development". Retrieved 2015-12-01.

External links[edit]