Jamaica’s health minister Rudyard Spencer is warning the public to take care when they prepare the popular but potentially deadly ackee fruit following an increase in poisoning cases. About 35 people have fallen ill since last month; it is believed that people are eating unripened ackees, the country’s national fruit. Spencer said that all of the poisoning cases involved ackees cooked at home. He said that the ministry will bolster a public-education campaign on ackee poisoning.
The red-skinned fruit with golden flesh produces a compound known as hypoglycin that can reach dangerous levels when it is picked too early and is not ripe. The toxin can cause a drop in blood sugar and vomiting, and, in rare cases, convulsions, coma, and death.
Often used in a dish called ackee and saltfish, the ackee is a common breakfast dish in Jamaica, with a texture similar to scrambled eggs when cooked. It is rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin A, zinc, and protein.
The ackee tree is indigenous to West Africa, where it is called ankye or ishin. Thomas Clarke, Jamaica’s first botanist, introduced the plant to the island in 1778. However, the ackee tree, Blighia sapida, was named after the infamous Captain William Bligh who took the breadfruit tree to the West Indies. The tree also grows in other West Indian Islands such as Cuba, Haiti and Barbados, in Central America, and in Southern Florida. An association between ackee poisoning and Jamaican vomiting sickness was first noted in 1875 and documented in 1904.
For photo and more on ackees, see http://lenaskitchen.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/ackee/
For information on the ackee’s toxicity, see http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1008792-overview