The akee, found in Jamaica, is a relative of the lychee tree. Akee is a tropical evergreen tree that usually grows about 30 feet tall. Its leaves have a leathery texture and white flowers. The akee fruit is shaped like a pear and is bright red to yellow-orange. When it is ripe it splits open to reveal three large black seeds. Surrounding these seeds is soft, creamy white or yellow flesh.

The actual fruit of the akee is not edible. It is only the fleshy arils surrounding the seeds that are edible. The rest of the fruit, including the seeds, are poisonous. Be sure to pick the fruit only after it has opened naturally and when it is fresh. Immature and overripe akee are poisonous also.

In the past 70 years, many studies have been conducted to determine what makes the akee so toxic. It has been determined that the unripe arils contain a toxic property that is dispelled once the fruit opens and is exposed to light. Even when fully ripe, the arils still possess 1/12 of the toxins of an unripe akee. Symptoms of akee poisoning include vomiting without diarrhea followed by drowsiness, convulsions, coma, and sometimes death. However treatment with sugar solutions has been found helpful because of the poison’s hypoglycemic effects.

That is not to say you should steer completely clear of the akee. The part you do eat, the arils, are soft and delicate. They taste similar to scrambled eggs. Akee is truly a symbol of Jamaican culture. Salt Cod and Akee is the national dish of Jamaica. The salt cod is sautéed with akee, pork fat, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs, and garnished with crisp bacon and fresh tomatoes.

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