Ackee fruit has a reputation for being among the most dangerous fruits on earth. Much of the fruit is toxic but when harvested and prepared properly, it can offer a number of outstanding health benefits. If you are unfamiliar with ackee fruit, its benefits and its dangers, please read on to learn more.
What is Ackee Fruit?
Ackee fruit was originally a native of the West African forests but was brought to Jamaica some time during the 18th century. It has been grown on the Caribbean island ever since and is actually Jamaica’s national fruit. Today, it is a popular ingredient in many Caribbean dishes and is an integral ingredient in the country’s national dish – ackee and saltfish.
Ackee gets its name from African origins. It is actually derived from a Ghanaian word – Ankye. Ackee fruit is also variously known as achee, ayee and achee apple and botanically as Blighia sapida. The fruit gets its formal botanical name as a tribute to William Bligh after he brought the plant from Jamaica over to England back in 1793.
The plant on which the fruit grows is an evergreen that reaches a height of around 8 meters or 25 feet despite its relatively short trunk. The crown grows very large with bright green leaves. The tree usually bears its fruit twice in a year and is harvested once between January and March and again between June and August.
The ackee fruit which grow on the tree’s branches in clusters have a red skin and when the fruit is opened, it exposes three big black seeds. The only part of the fruit that is edible are the fleshy, yellow portions attached to each seed. The remainder of the fruit contains harmful toxins which can cause severe side effects that can even prove fatal.
Ackee fruit has a mild flavor with a creamy texture. Its texture and flavor mean that it is often used in cooking as a vegetable rather than eaten as a fruit. It is used in a great many savory dishes because it makes an excellent companion to meat, fish and vegetables.
Ackee Fruit Health Benefits
1) Digestive Health
Ackee fruit is an excellent source of dietary fiber which can improve your digestive health in a number of ways.
The fiber contained by the fruit helps to regulate bowel movement by adding more bulk to the stools which helps improve the movement of waste through your system.
Adding more fiber to your diet can also help reduce the risk of various other common digestive issues such as gas, bloating, indigestion and constipation. There is also some evidence that a high fiber diet can reduce the risk of serious illnesses like colon cancer and heart disease.
2) Improved Blood Circulation
Ackee fruit like many other healthy natural produce can improve the circulation of blood around your body.
The fruit is a great source of iron which plays many roles in the human body including the delivery of oxygen around the body.
Iron deficiency is not uncommon because it is notoriously difficult for the body to absorb. Getting enough iron into your diet can reduce the risk of fatigue, weakness, dizziness and anemia.
3) Blood Pressure Reduction
As well as being rich in iron, ackee is a great source of another important mineral – potassium. Potassium is a vasodilaor meaning that it helps open up the blood vessels allowing blood to flow more freely. This takes a great deal of strain away from the heart and allows it to work less hard.
By dilating your vessels and allowing the blood to flow more easily, ackee fruit can have a positive effect on your blood pressure. It can also protect against damage to the blood vessels and diseases like atherosclerosis.
4) Reduce Cholesterol
As well as helping to keep blood pressure under control, ackee fruit can benefit you heart in other ways. It contains a variety of heart healthy fatty acids like linoleic acid and palmitic acid.
These unsaturated fats help to improve cardiovascular health overall and reduce high cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a known risk factor when it comes to common heart diseases like atherosclerosis. It is also a major factor in major killers like stokes and heart attacks.
By eliminating or radically cutting the amount of unhealthy saturated fats in your diet and choosing healthy fats from sources like ackee, you can ensure your heart will go on beating well into the future.
5) Boosts the Immune System
Ackee fruit can also help your general health by stimulating the body’s immune system. The fruit is an excellent source of healthy vitamin C which is known to boost the immune system. By giving your immune system a lift, eating ackee and other vitamin C rich fruits can protect your body from common sicknesses like the cold or flu as well as more serious illness.
6) Keep Blood Sugars in Check
Ackee fruit is a rich source of complex carbs that help provide your body with immediate energy and also help to keep blood sugar levels under control. Instead of eating processed foods that are high in empty calories and refined carbs, try to get more complex carbohydrates into your diet.
The dietary fibers contained in ackee fruit also help to reduce the level of glucose and other sugars in the blood which can protect against type 2 diabetes.
7) Bone Health
As we age, our bones become less dense and begin to weaken. This can result in a a common condition called osteoporosis. By eating mineral rich food like ackee, we can all do ourselves a favor and help our bones to retain their health and strength until much later in life.
How to Eat Ackee Fruit
Ackee fruit is usually cooked and used in various dishes as a vegetable. It has a creamy, buttery texture and a mild, somewhat nutty flavor that make it suitable for a range of savory dishes.
As well as the classic Jamaican dish – ackee and saltfish, ackee is used as an ingredient in a variety of other dishes including ackee soup, fritters, quiche, souffle and as an ingredient in a mixed salad.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the bulk of the ackee fruit is actually toxic and great care needs to be taken when the fruit is harvested for sale.
The fruit contains a harmful toxin known as hypoglycin A which meant that the fruit was banned for a number of years from several countries including the USA.
When this toxin is eaten, it can lead various nasty side effects. They include nausea and vomiting, muscular fatigue and drowsiness. Unfortunately there are also more severe side effects that including prostration, coma and even death.
This toxin is typically found in the unripe ackee fruit which is harvested earlier than usual. It is found in many parts of the fruit including the seeds, the arils and the rind. When these parts of the fruit find their way into the product packagers, the fruit is contaminated. However, ackee harvested at the appropriate time has a much lower level of toxicity and is considered safe to consume.
Because of the improvement in harvesting and packaging quality, the FDA recently lifted its ban but any prospective importer must still meet the agency’s very strict testing standards. Exporters who pass this testing stage are added to the FDA’s green list meaning that their fruit is high quality and safe for the public.