Ackees are a tropical fruit that originated from West Africa and now grow in various parts of the world where the climate is warm. Jamaicans revere this fruit, and since importing this plant in 1773, they have now elevated its status to the national fruit of Jamaica.
If you’ve come across the ackee for sale at your local grocery store or market, you may be wondering what does ackee taste like? Is it worth your money, or are you better sticking to better known tropical fruit like the banana or pawpaw? We’re about to provide an in-depth look at the ackee and its uses in the kitchen.
Describing the ackee flavor
The raw yellow flesh of an ackee fruit has a very mild, savory flavor that is similar to cream cheese with a slightly nutty, bitter undertone. Others compare it to garbanzo beans, avocado, or almonds. The texture is firm like a jackfruit and juicy with a buttery mouthfeel. Once cooked, the ackee softens and has a melt-in-your-mouth feel.
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Butter Ackee Vs. Cheese Ackee
The flavor characteristics of an ackee will vary depending on the variety. There are two main types, which are the “butter” and the “cheese.” If you ever hear people disputing what an ackee tastes like, often it’s because they’re comparing different fruit. Although their visual appearance can distinguish these two, they’re also worlds apart in their texture and culinary uses.
1. Butter ackee
A butter ackee can be identified by its yellow arils, which are the edible meaty flesh. You can see the parts of the fruit below to help.
Its flesh is soft and creamy, similar to a cream cheese texture and very buttery.
Note: the only edible part of the ackee are the arils. Extreme caution should be taken if you decide to eat them at home as the remaining parts are toxic. In severe cases, they can be fatal when consumed.
Butter ackee is useful for recipes that call for the fruit to be broken up, rather than kept in one solid piece. If you’re adding them to food and want the fruit to stay intact, add them at the end of the cook.
Here are some of our preferred culinary uses for butter ackee:
- mash it with garlic, butter, and potato then process in a potato ricer.
- baked in cakes, muffins, or bread for a twist on your regular baked goods.
- delicious infused into a custard and adds a lovely mouthfeel to ice cream.
- toss a handful into a morning smoothie for a creamier texture.
2. Cheese ackee
Cheese ackee has much lighter arils, more of a palish cream color. When cooking cheese ackee, you’ll notice that the texture is firmer, and it doesn’t break up as easily. It can take the knocks much better when cooked in a frying pan. Visually, when cooked and plated, this type of ackee looks like scrambled eggs.
After cooking cheese ackee, you may find it difficult to mash. To fix this, add the cooked ackee to a pot. Splash with a little water and sprinkle with baking soda. Finally, simmer until the liquid has evaporated, and you’ll find the fruit is much softer thanks to the baking soda.
Some other tasty recipes that use cheese ackee are:
- add to a fresh salad for an interesting textural element.
- toss into a stirfry or sauté them on their own with some garlic and onion.
- make a Caribbean traditional breakfast, ackee, and saltfish.
- add to casserole, soup or rice dishes, quiche, or callaloo.
If you’re going to try ackee for the first time, there’s a good chance you’ll be eating the canned version, imported from Jamaica. Finding it fresh in the United States will be a challenge due to an FDA ban on its importation. Even the canned fruit is inspected on arrival, to ensure the fruit is ripe. The unripe fruit contains high levels of hypoglycin, which can cause Jamaican vomiting sickness.
Cheese ackees are the preferred variety used by canning manufacturers in Jamaica. However, the texture of the canned product is mushier and softer than freshly cooked ones. When cooking with canned ackees, drain out the liquid and add the fruit at the end of the cook as they will break up easily.
How to cook ackee and saltfish
Jamaica’s traditional breakfast is a dish that is carbohydrate-packed, perfect food for those with a big appetite. In Jamaica, it is usually a low-cost meal served at roadside diners. You’ll typically receive plantains, breadfruit, yams, fried dumplings, and callaloo. Added to these, you can opt for ackee and saltfish.
To make ackee and saltfish at home, you’ll need a can of ackee and some salted cod from your local fishmonger. Finding the fish is easy as it is widespread; however, if you’re struggling to find canned ackee, then Linstead Market Ackee is your best option which is available on Amazon.
- ½ lb salted codfish, boneless
- ⅓ cup canola oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 cup bell peppers, any color
- 1 20oz can ackee
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Gently run the codfish under cold water to remove any salt then add to a bowl filled with hot water. Allow soaking for an hour before replacing the water with more hot water. Soak for another hour.
- Heat a skillet on medium setting then add the oil. Sprinkle in the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the scallions, onions, peppers, and cook for five minutes, occasionally stirring.
- Drain the ackee, then add to the skillet and cook for five minutes. Stir the food gently to avoid breaking up the ackee too much. Sprinkle over the paprika and pepper and remove from the heat. Serve immediately.
Can you eat raw ackee?
The ackee arils can be eaten raw; however, it is essential that the fruit is ripe or the fruit won’t be for human consumption. You’ll know that it’s ripe when the fruit has opened up, exposing the inside arils.
- Jamaica’s export of ackee increased from US$4.4m in 2000 to US$20m in 2016.
- The ackee has various other names, including achee, Blighia sapida, or ackee apple.
- It is part of the soapberry family (Sapindaceae), the same as the rambutan, lychee, and longan.
- The ackee tree can also be used as a soap for laundering, cologne, hardwood for construction, and in medicine.
Ackee is a unique fruit that doesn’t compare to any other edible fruit you’ll have eaten. Its mild, nutty flavor profile combined with a buttery texture makes it ideal for savory dishes; however, it can also be used for plenty of sweet recipes too.
For the “ackee novice,” eating the canned fruit is your safest option. If you’re eating them fresh, make sure they’re ripe and that the only part you eat is the arils. Never eat the seeds or anything else that looks like it might be okay for eating. For a safer tropical fruit eating option, you might want to try a noni fruit. Warning: this fruit isn't for the faint-hearted.
Have you tried ackee before? Let us know in the comments below what you think of it.
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