Ackee: Benefits, Nutritional Value & Healthy Recipes

Ackee, also known as the Blighia sapida, is the national fruit of Jamaica. While its name is derived from Twi/Akan language of Ghana, its scientific name pays tribute to Captain William Bligh who introduced the fruit to the West.[1]  It grows on the ackee tree (evergreen) which is used not just for its fruits but also for making medicines, perfumes, furniture & tools [2] , etc. When the fruit is unripe, it is green in colour and looks more or less like a pear. Consuming the fruit in this stage of its growth can prove lethal because of the presence of hypoglycin, a toxin.[3]

Ackee Fruit: Benefits

As the fruit ripens further, it changes colour from yellow to orange to red. In the fully ripe state, it contains three huge black seeds covered in spongy yellow flesh called as the aril which is the only edible portion. Ackee as a fruit and as a Carribean delicacy is very popular because of its taste and nutritional value. Moreover, with its exports increasing with time, the fruit supposedly makes a praiseworthy contribution to the economy of Jamaica.[4]

What Are The Health Benefits Of Ackee? 

Here's presenting 9 of the many health benefits of this wonder-fruit which is a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and more.

1) Aids digestion 

Ackee fruit is rich in fibre [5] [6] which has been known and proven to aid the digestive process. Dietary fibres improve peristaltic movement inside the gut, thereby adding bulk to the food particles and aiding them to move quickly. This helps in regulating bowel movements and preventing constipation. In addition to that, consuming dietary fibre also prevents bloating and other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.[7]

2) Regulates blood sugar levels 

Ackee is considered a beneficial food for people suffering from type 2 diabetes because of its carbohydrate content.[8] [9]   It contains polysaccharides or complex carbohydrates which break down to produce energy and therefore control the blood sugar levels. The dietary fibre present in ackee itself is a polysaccharide which helps to regulate the sugar level in the body.

3) Boosts the immune system

The two main nutrients required for maintaining a healthy immune system are vitamin C aka ascorbic acid, and zinc.[10] [11]  Ackee happens to be a rich reservoir of both these nutrients.[12]  Together, the two function to boost our immune system and increase our body's immunity. Moreover, vitamin C plays an important role in the production of collagen - a fibrous protein that is essential in different functions in the body.

4) Promotes blood circulation and heart health 

Another element that is present very abundantly in ackee fruit is potassium [13]. The benefits of potassium to our body cannot be emphasized enough. One of its most important functions is vasodilation - the process of opening up or dilating the blood vessels to facilitate easier blood circulation so that the cardiovascular system and heart can function with much ease.

Ackee also contains the element iron[13] which is important for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system by carrying oxygen to different parts of the body. Together, the two elements improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure [14] and reduce the risk of deadly conditions like atherosclerosis. Moreover, the fruit also contains unsaturated fats which lower cholesterol and keep the heart healthy[14]

5) Supports muscle regeneration 

Proteins are rightly called the building blocks of the cells and tissues of our body. Be it muscle regeneration, eating healthy to lose weight or a post workout food, proteins are the go-to food. Ackee is one such source of proteins [12]  which is not just delicious but also an overall nutritious package which contains many other vitamins and minerals also.

6) Strengthens bones 

With age, our bones start losing their strength and need special care. The ackee fruit contains minerals like iron, zinc, calcium and phosphorus[13] which strengthen our bones and prevent conditions like osteoporosis and demineralization. But for this to happen, considerable amounts of these minerals must be consumed and hence, it is best to supplement your ackee with other sources of these minerals as well.

7) Prevents anaemia 

When there's a lack of iron in the body, a lot of our biological functions get impaired and often, in extreme cases, we suffer from anaemia characterized by light-headedness, weakness, etc. If you're anaemic, it is probably because you're not taking enough iron through your diet. Ackee fruit contains iron as well as folic acid, both of which are required for the synthesis of healthy RBCs. In addition to that, the vitamin C in the fruit stimulates the absorption of iron in the intestines [15] , thereby reducing the risk of anaemia and other similar conditions.

Ackee Fruit Benefits- Infographics

8) Maintains electrolyte balance 

When our body is dehydrated from vigorous physical work or environmental factors, it disrupts the electrolytic balance within. As this happens, the levels of sodium and potassium are also disrupted in the body leading to multiple problems including muscle cramps. Ackee contains both of these elements.[13] While sodium helps in the contraction of muscles, potassium helps in relaxing the muscles. Consumption of ackee can help to curb these effects of dehydration, although drinking water is of prime importance.

9) Helps with skin infections 

According to a study [16] , the leaves and stem bark extracts of the ackee plant are useful in protecting the skin from certain types of pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus. It also confirms the authenticity of the traditional use of ackee in treating skin infections.

Nutritional Value Of Ackee

Nutrition Value: Ackee Fruit

100 g of ackee arils contain about 140 calories. Ackee is a good source of healthy vitamins and minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and other elements.[12]  The fact that this amazing fruit has zero cholesterol and zero saturated fats make it an even healthier option to include in our diets!

What Does Ackee Taste Like?  

The aril of the Ackee fruit has a mild taste with a creamy or buttery consistency.[17] While most people find the fruit delicious, there are some people who compare cooked ackee (mainly its combo with saltfish) to scrambled eggs or nuts. Because of its consistency and taste, it goes well with other dishes. Being a fruit, its ability to pair with meat, fish and veggies is incredible.

How To Eat Ackee Fruit? 

Ackee fruit is, more often than not, used as a vegetable and is cooked as a part of various dishes, the most popular among them being the ackee and saltfish combo. While eating ackee, one must be careful about whether or not the fruit was harvested properly and whether it is fully ripe - otherwise, it may have really bad consequences about which you'll read further in this article.

How To Cook Ackee? 

Being the national fruit of Jamaica, it shouldn't come as a surprise that an ackee delicacy is Jamaica's favourite! The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish - a very popular delicacy among the Caribbeans and Jamaicans. Apart from that, there are other forms in which ackee is popular - soups, salads, quiches/pastries, fritters, etc.

Healthy Ackee Recipes 

The popularity of Jamaica's national dish is not just limited to the areas around it. In fact, the recipe has been gaining popularity with people all over the world with exports alone contributing a fair share to Jamaica's economy. Let's have a look at how ackee and saltfish can be prepared in a healthy manner. Here's a simple recipe! [Recipe courtesy - [18] ]

Ackee and saltfish 

Ingredients

1) About 220 g of saltfish/salted codfish
2) 12 ripe ackees
3) 1 small tomato cut into chunks
4) 1 big thinly sliced onion
5) 2 crushed garlic cloves
6) 3 small slices of Scotch bonnet peppers
7) 2 sprigs of thyme
8) 1 small sweet red pepper
9) 1 teaspoon black pepper
10) Coconut oil to sauté

How to prepare

• Soak the saltfish in cold water to reduce or remove the salt.
• Remove the black seeds from the aril along with the red tissue that lines the interior of the aril-pit.
• To ensure maximum cleanliness, wash the extracted arils, i.e., the fleshy portion, in running water for a couple of minutes.
• Boil the ackees and cover them until they become soft and cooked. Pay attention while doing so because ackees cook up pretty fast. The fleshy part turns delicate and bright yellow when it is cooked.
• Remove the fruits from the heat source and keep them aside, covered.
• Clean the soaked fish and remove its bones.
• Sauté the sliced onion and sweet red pepper in a pan. Add the tomato chunks. Remove half of the onions and peppers after a while.
• Add the ackees and the fish, and increase the heat.
• Before serving the food, garnish it with the onions and peppers you had kept aside.

Vegan ackee recipe 

There must be a lot amongst us who have chosen to live life the vegan, cruelty-free way. And it is a fact that finding alternative vegan recipes for different dishes is a hard task. If you're planning to consume ackee the vegan way, here's a savoury recipe for you! [Recipe courtesy - [19] ]

Ingredients 

1) 1 can of ackee fruit
2) 1 cup of diced tomatoes
3) 1 cup of chopped spinach
4) Half a cup of chopped green onions
5) A quarter cup of chopped cilantro
6) 2 tablespoons of nutritional/deactivated yeast
7) 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
8) 1 tablespoon of cumin
9) Half a teaspoon of Indian black salt, or to taste
10) Salt and pepper to taste
11) 1 tablespoon of olive oil or vegan butter

How to prepare  

• In one tablespoon of olive oil or vegan butter, combine minced garlic and green onions. Heat them on a medium flame over the skillet.
• Sauté the mix until it is aromatic. Then add the ackee fruits and tomatoes, and cook for a while until the flavours combine.
• Add spinach, scramble the mixture well and finally, add spices - including the nutritional yeast.
• Cook for a while and serve hot.

Caution While Using Ackee 

Even though ackee fruit holds immense nutritional value and is very delicious, there is a flip side to it. Ackee fruit in its unripe state contains a toxin called as hypoglycin, the consumption of which can prove to be very dangerous or even lethal[3] . If the fruit has been harvested properly, then the toxin dematerializes and dissipates while cooking. In order to see whether your ackee is fully ripe or not, make sure the fruit pods had become red and opened naturally before you pick them. Once the aril is removed, it should be cleaned properly and ensured that the red fibres have all been washed away. Remove the black seeds as they are also toxic. Throw away the seeds as well as the water used for cooking purposes.

Ingesting the unripe fruit will permit the entry of the toxins into your body which may lead to severe consequences like Jamaican vomiting sickness [20] , seizures, hypothermia, extreme drowsiness, etc. It could also lead to something more serious as death or coma. If you ever happen to eat an unripe one, rush to your doctor. Usually the patient is given antiemetic to help control the vomiting. Try to administer activated charcoal as it helps to absorb the toxins from your body. If you have convulsions, use benzodiazepines.[21]

 

View Article References
  1. [1] Ackee. Retrieved from https://jis.gov.jm/
  2. [2] Seaforth, C.E. (1962) The ackee, Jamaica's national fruit. Bulletin of the Scientific Research Council (Kingston, Jamaica) 3, 51–53
  3. [3] Blake, O. A., Bennink, M. R., & Jackson, J. C. (2006). Ackee (Blighia sapida) hypoglycin A toxicity: Dose response assessment in laboratory rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 44(2), 207–213
  4. [4] Bennett, K. (June 04, 2017). Ackee exports at highest level in history. Retrieved from https://www.jamaicaobserver.com/
  5. [5] Koenig, D. (2010). Ethnomedicine Uses , traditional management , perception of variation and preferences in ackee (Blighia sapida K . D . Koenig) fruit traits in Benin: implications for domestication and conservation, 1–14
  6. [6] Henry, F. J. (2014). Revisiting plant fats and health in the Caribbean. West Indian Medical Journal, 63(1), 1–2
  7. [7] El-Salhy, M., Ystad, S. O., Mazzawi, T., & Gundersen, D. (2017). Dietary fiber in irritable bowel syndrome (Review).International Journal of Molecular Medicine, 40(3), 607-613
  8. [8] Dossou, V. M., Agbenorhevi, J. K., Combey, S., & Afi-Koryoe, S. (2014). Ackee (Blighia sapida) fruit arils: Nutritional, phytochemicals and antioxidant properties Veronica. International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, 3(6), 534–537
  9. [9] Olubunmi, A., & Ademola, O. G. (2009). Blighia sapida; the Plant and Its hypoglycins. Journal of Scientific Research, XXXIX(2), 16–25
  10. [10] Carr, A. C., & Maggini, S. (2017). Vitamin C and immune function. Nutrients, 9(11), 1–25
  11. [11] Prasad, A. (2008). Zinc in Human Health: Effect of Zinc on Immune Cells. Molecular Medicine, 14(5–6), 1
  12. [12] Dossou, V. M. (2014). Ackee (Blighia sapida) Fruit Arils: Nutritional, Phytochemicals and Antioxidant Properties. International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, 3(6), 534
  13. [13] Howélé, O., Bobelé, N., Théodor, D., & Séraphin, K. (2010). Nutritional composition studies of sun dried Blighia sapida ( k . koenig ) aril from Côte d ’ Ivoire, (November 2016), 1989–1994
  14. [14] Oyeleke, G.O., Oyetade, O.A., Afolabi Fatai, Adegoke, B. M. (2013). Nutrients, Antinutrients and Physicochemical Compositions of Blighia sapida Pulp and Pulp Oil (Ackee Apple). IOSR Journal of Applied Chemistry, 4(1), 5–8
  15. [15] Hallberg L, Brune M, Rossander L. The role of vitamin C in iron absorption.International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 1989; 30:103–8
  16. [16] Ubulom Peace M. E., Udobi Chinweizu E., Akpabio Ekaete I., Eshiet.U. (2013). Antimicrobial Activities of Leaf and Stem Bark Extracts of Blighia sapida. Journal of Plant Studies, 2(2), 47–52
  17. [17] Rothman, L. Snapshots from Jamaica: Eating Ackee and Saltfish, the National Dish. Retrieved from https://www.seriouseats.com/
  18. [18] What Is Ackee Good For?. (2017). Retrieved from https://foodfacts.mercola.com/
  19. [19] Scott, C. (May 7, 2017). Vegan Ackee Scrambled Egg Recipe. Retrieved from https://foodchannel.com/
  20. [20] Jamaican vomiting sickness. Retrieved from https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/
  21. [21] Surmaitis R, Hamilton RJ. (2018). Ackee Fruit Toxicity. Treasure Island, San Francisco: StatPearls Publishing
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