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Appreciating the Ackee Fruit

Some of us enjoy traveling more than others. My grandfather used to tell me "Everything I need to see, I can see in Monroe County."

Personally, I do enjoy traveling. A large part of my desire to travel is to try new foods. Although I enjoy plenty of traditional Midwestern cuisine (hello, bratwurst), there are some flavors that you just can't find in western Wisconsin.

On a recent trip to Jamaica, I had the opportunity to try many of the native foods on the island. Although jerk chicken was the first dish that I was interested in, the ackee fruit is probably the most memorable of the foods I sampled on the trip.

You won’t find the ackee fruit in most of the world, as it is only commonly grown in tropical West Africa and the Caribbean. The fruit grows on trees, starting as a pale orange-pink color that gradually darkens as the fruit ripens. When ripe, ackee will naturally open up to reveal large, black seeds and pale-yellow fruit inside.

The natural opening of the fruit is an important feature, as unripe ackee is actually toxic to eat and can be fatal if consumed. The fruit cannot be forced open before it’s ripe, or it will remain toxic.

Ripe ackee, of course, is perfectly safe to eat as its toxins are released upon opening. The black seeds – which are always poisonous – are removed and the yellow fruit is cooked, usually boiled. Jamaica’s national dish features boiled ackee fruit mixed with salted codfish, tomato, onions, peppers, and spices. The flavor of cooked ackee is unique, as it reminded me of both avocado and scrambled eggs.

The creamy flavor of ackee makes sense considering its nutrition profile; unsaturated fats make up most of the calories from the fruit. You’ll also find plenty of niacin, vitamin C, potassium, iron, and calcium in a serving of ackee.

Finding ackee in the United States is rare, as it is not grown here and exports from other countries have been restricted at times. If you do find ackee, it will likely be canned.

Although you may not try ackee without planning a trip to Jamaica, I encourage you to try new foods when traveling – you might be surprised how much you enjoy a new flavor on your dinner plate.

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