(Blighia sapida – Family Sapindaceae)
Akee is the curious fruit of a west African tree introduced to the West Indies by Captain Bligh of the HMS Bounty, and hence, its botanical name.
It is a member of the Soapberry family and related to the litchi nut.
The name akee is a corruption of the Mayan ‘achee’ which applied to several plants whose flowers attract the honey bee.
In the West Indies, the name is also used for another related fruit called mamoncillo. The fruit looks like a peach, but its structure includes segments much like an orange. The fruit is usually red when ripe, but can be yellow.
When fully ripe, it splits open to reveal three shiny, black seeds partly surrounded by a fleshy, cream-coloured aril or seed coat. This aril is the only edible part of the fruit. The rest is not safe to eat as it contains the toxin hypoglycin, a propionic acid. This toxin is found in the seeds and the unripe aril.
What is in the aril is largely dispelled by light when the fruit splits, but what is in the seeds remains. As proof, even the squirrels never eat the seeds.
The peak of ripeness is just as the fruit splits, causing a race between man and bird to see who gets to the fruit first. Since the aril is oily, it does not keep for long. The aril can be eaten raw, but it is usually cooked.
With the texture being similar to “brains” or scrambled eggs, the fruit is sometimes referred to as ‘vegetable brains’.
Although a favourite in Jamaica as part of a national dish, akee is also canned and exported to Britain for the West Indian community. In Africa, the fruits are eaten raw, cooked in a soup, or fried in oil.