Thursday, January 16, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Ackees

     Ackees are a fruit, and are related to lychees (see November 15, 2013 post for more info).  They’re originally native to West Africa.  However, they were introduced to the Caribbean several hundred years ago, and many of these islands, particularly Jamaica, took to them in a huge way.  Ackees are both the national fruit of Jamaica, and (with saltfish) the national dish.  The fruit’s scientific name (Blighia sapida) honors William Bligh, who introduced it to England’s scientific world.  And yes, this is the same Captain Bligh famous (or infamous, depending on whether you sympathize with the Captain or much of his crew) for the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.
     Once again, I have the superlative Wegman’s supermarket to thank for this one, from their extensive foreign foods section.  I was about to chow down as usual, when I happened to do a little research on this exotic fruit.  And that’s when I found out that eating ackees is not without its risks.  If the fruit is eaten before it’s sufficiently mature, or if the seeds or their covering (the arils) are consumed, the diner may develop hypoglycemia or Jamaican Vomiting Sickness.  In extreme cases, especially with children, this can even be fatal.  So, in trying ackees I had one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Foods, as printed in a list by Time Magazine in 2010.*
     Upon opening the can, I discovered that the ackees resembled scrambled eggs—they were small, yellowish pieces.  As regular readers know, I rarely to never prepare foods, so I didn’t cook up the actual ackee and saltfish dish.  (By the way, as far as I can tell, the salted fish species most commonly used is cod.)  Instead, I opted for a substitute of ackees with (canned) chopped clams and sardines (herring) in a mustard dill sauce.  And I made sure to get pieces of both seafood and fruit in the same bites, as well as trying the ackees just by themselves.  Oddly, the similarity to scrambled eggs didn’t end with the appearance.  Ackees have a mild taste, and aren’t very sweet.  They were okay, but I preferred them with the fish or clams.  Which is kind of weird, when you think about it—meat/fruit pairings aren’t very common.
     Two other things to consider.  Again, rare for a fruit, ackees are high in fat—the nineteen ounce can I tried had 27 grams.  And, it was expensive.  The can I bought was around $14!  It was imported (from GraceKennedy Ltd. in Jamaica), but still, this is pretty steep.  Therefore, to sum it up, I would be willing to try ackees again.  However, given their price it won’t be that often.  Actually, for my next time I think I’d like them to be in the actual saltfish and ackee dish, served in a Jamaican restaurant.

*  I’m sort of hoping most readers won’t notice the asterisk, because then I’ll look more badass.  But, full disclosure, the list I noted is real, but it was determined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it refers to the most dangerous foods for children.  Some of the other members of this list were hot dogs (as they’re a common choking hazard), peanuts (because of the sometimes serious allergy), and leafy greens like lettuce, cabbage, and spinach (because they sometimes have e. coli, salmonella, etc.).  In all seriousness, though, ackees can be dangerous, but like with mushrooms, if the person who harvested them knows what they’re doing, they’re fine.

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