What is ackee?
Ackee, scientifically known as Blighia sapida, is a fruit popularly known as a national food of Jamaica but has originated from West Africa.1 The fruit gained recognition not only for its taste but for its health benefits as well as controversial potential toxicity. This article examines the various health advantages of ackee, explores its nutritional profile and provides important information regarding cautionary measures and potential side effects associated with its consumption.
When consumed safely, ackee offers several potential health benefits, as listed below:
- Acts as an antioxidant:
Ackee is beneficial as it contains antioxidants that help the body fight against damage. How does it do this? Well, we’re all aware that smoking cigarettes, pollution, and too much exposure to the sun can be damaging to our bodies; however, oftentimes, we do not know exactly why. Quite simply, it's because they produce harmful molecules known as free radicals, which stay in the body and cause stress to our cells. Antioxidants are substances that protect our bodies from damage caused by these free radicals. Ackee’s various antioxidants help neutralise these harmful free radicals, hence reducing oxidative stress on the body and potentially lowering the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and certain types of cancer.2
- Preventing chronic conditions:
Another reason why ackee is beneficial is because of its potassium content. Adequate potassium intake supports proper heart function and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Ackee’s high levels of potassium may contribute to heart health by maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.3
Secondly, ackee is made up of a substance known as hypoglycin A. This substance possesses the ability to reduce blood sugar to extremely low levels. Hence, pharmacologic research has been geared toward exploring the treatment of diabetes with hypoglycin molecules found in ackee.4.
Lastly, some studies have shown that diets rich in fatty acids such as oleic acid might reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Similarly, ackee has high levels of oleic acid and can be said to have possible advantages in preventing prostate cancer.5,6
- Digestive health:
Another health benefit of ackee is that it is high in fibre.7 Fibre is known to prevent constipation as well as support a healthy digestive system. Consuming ackee can, therefore, contribute to a healthy gut, support regular bowel movements and reduce the risk of obesity as well as gastrointestinal disorders.8
- Anti-Inflammatory properties:
Further, some studies have suggested that ackee contains compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation usually occurs when the body encounters offending agents like germs or foreign agents and may present as swelling, redness or pain. Disease or long-term medical conditions can also cause inflammation by causing the body to fight against its cells.9 Anti-inflammatory substances act by reducing inflammation in the body; therefore, ackee may help mitigate the risk of chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.10
- Nutrient density:
Not only does ackee provide a range of essential nutrients, but it also provides essential minerals, vitamins and fibre. Consuming nutrient-rich foods such as ackee supports overall health, boosts immunity and aids in optimal bodily functions.11
Nutritional value of ackee
As mentioned before, ackee is a nutrient-rich food and has many health benefits. Below is the nutritional composition of ackee and a table for illustration.
Ackee is a notable source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports immune function and collagen synthesis. It also contains vitamin A, also known as carotene, which is essential for healthy vision and skin, growth and development.12
Canned ackee provides potassium, a mineral important for maintaining electrolyte balance and regulating blood pressure. It also contains small amounts of calcium, iron and phosphorus which are all essential for growth and development.4
- Dietary Fibre:
Ackee is rich in dietary fibre, which aids in digestion, promotes feelings of fullness and supports a healthy gastrointestinal system.7
Figure: Nutrition Composition of 100g of Canned Ackee7
Cautionary considerations and side effects
While ackee offers many health benefits, it is crucial to exercise caution and adhere to proper preparation methods before consumption due to the presence of a substance called hypoglycin A and B. These toxins are found in the unripe fruit and seeds of ackee and can be harmful if ingested. Some studies have linked this toxin to liver disease as well as low blood sugar and Jamaican Vomiting Disease (JVS). The following precautions should, therefore, be taken before ingestion:
Only consume the ripe food of the ackee fruit, which is usually bright red to yellow-orange (Fig 3). The ripe fruit flesh of ackee contains only low quantities of hypoglycins, but concentrations in unripe fruits are 10–100 times greater. Avoid consuming the unripe fruit and seeds.12,13
- Proper cooking:
Heat treatment helps to reduce the concentrations of the toxins in the ackee fruit, and exposure to sunlight significantly reduces hypoglycin concentrations. To avoid ingestion of the toxin, ensure that ackee is cooked thoroughly before consumption. It is advised to boil ackee, discard of the water and further boil in order to ensure all traces of toxins are removed.1,13 The Jamaican national dish, "ackee and saltfish," is a classic example of a well-prepared ackee dish.
Individuals with known allergies to soapberries or related fruits should exercise caution when consuming ackee.14 Examples of known fruits in the Soapberry are lychee, maple and guarana. Symptoms of allergic reactions include skin rashes, itching, swelling, difficulty breathing or gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhoea/ bloating. If you experience any adverse reactions after consuming ackee, seek immediate medical attention.
- Worsening of medical conditions:
People with pre-existing medical conditions such as low blood sugar or liver disease should consult with a healthcare professional before consuming ackee due to its potential effects on blood sugar levels and liver health.15,16
Carbohydrates are the biggest source of calories and energy for athletes. Ackee is rich in carbohydrates such as glucose, fructose and, most prominently, sucrose. Sucrose is an ideal substance for athletes as it contains both glucose and fructose and, therefore, can provide quick outbursts of energy for athletes when needed.17 It is also imperative that athletes’ diets are rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and fibre, all of which are present in the tasty fruit – ackee. For this reason, ackee can be included in an athlete’s nourishment to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.18
Ackee is a tropical fruit that offers both flavour and potential health benefits. Its nutrient-rich profile, including vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre, contributes to its appeal as a nutritious addition to a balanced diet. The antioxidant properties of ackee may help protect against oxidative stress and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Additionally, its potassium content supports heart health and blood pressure regulation, while the dietary fibre promotes digestive health.
However, it is crucial to exercise caution when consuming ackee due to the presence of the toxin hypoglycin A. Proper ripening and preparation methods are essential to ensure the safe consumption of ackee and avoid several ailments. It is recommended to consult with healthcare professionals or nutritionists for guidance on the proper handling and preparation of ackee.
While ackee has a rich culinary heritage and potential health benefits, it's important to consider individual allergies and sensitivities. If any adverse reactions occur after consuming ackee, it is best to seek immediate medical attention.
In conclusion, when handled and prepared correctly, ackee can be enjoyed as part of a healthy and diverse diet. Its unique flavour and potential health benefits make it a cherished fruit in Caribbean cuisine. By understanding the nutritional profile, precautions, and potential benefits of ackee, individuals can make informed decisions about incorporating this tropical fruit into their dietary choices.
- Sinmisola A, Oluwasesan BM, Chukwuemeka AP. Blighia sapida K.D. Koenig: A review on its phytochemistry, pharmacological and nutritional properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2019;235:446–59. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2019.01.017
- Pinto, M.D.S., de Castro Moreira, M.E., Ribeiro, H.K.S.C. et al. Blighia sapida K.D. Koenig: Antioxidant Activity and Inhibition of Key Enzymes Linked to Metabolic Syndrome. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 75, 312–319 (2020).
- Akpotuzor, J.O., Nwodo, O.F.C., Ugwuoke, W.I. et al. Potential Antihypertensive and Anti-Atherosclerotic Effects of Blighia sapida (Akee Apple) Fruit in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats. Medicines 6, 13 (2019).
- Wray D, Goldson-Barnaby A, Bailey D. Ackee ( Blighia Sapida KD Koenig) - A Review of Its Economic Importance, Bioactive Components, Associated Health Benefits and Commercial Applications. International Journal of Fruit Science [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Sep 3]; 20(sup2):S910–24. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15538362.2020.1772941
- Hodge AM, English DR, McCredie MRE, Severi G, Boyle P, Hopper JL, et al. Foods, nutrients and prostate cancer. Cancer Causes & Control. 2004;15(1):11–20. doi:10.1023/b:caco.0000016568.25127.10
- Goldson A, Bremmer D, Nelson K, Minott-Kates D. Fat profile of Jamaican ackees, oleic acid content and possible health implications. West Indian Medical Journal. 2014; doi:10.7727/wimj.2013.052
- Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI). (1998). Food Composition Tables for the English-speaking Caribbean. CFNI/CARICOM.
- Oliveira, T.B., Cunha, M.S., Alves, M.C.E. et al. Chemoprotective effect of Blighia sapida K. D. Koenig fruit pulp on experimental colitis. Food Sci Biotechnol 29, 23–30 (2020)
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65083/
- Dos Santos, A.M.C., de Almeida Silva, E.M., da Silva, D.N.L. et al. Flavonoids from Blighia sapida K.D. Koenig: Chemical characterization and anti-inflammatory properties. J Ethnopharmacol 259, 112947 (2020).
- Bovell-Benjamin AC, Roberts J. Naturally occurring toxicants: Presence in selected commonly consumed fruits. Regulating Safety of Traditional and Ethnic Foods.2016;247–82. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-800605-4.00013-x
- Jackson-Malete J, Blake O, Gordon A. Natural toxins in fruits and vegetables: Blighia sapida and hypoglycin. Food Safety and Quality Systems in Developing Countries. 2015;17–32. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-801227-7.00002-0
- Wong, L., & Ragone, D. (2009). The Complete Exotic Food Guide. Mutual Publishing
- Stucken, E. Z., Draper, H. R., & Kohn, J. B. (2018). Anaphylaxis to Ackee Fruit (Blighia sapida)
- Ibraheem O, Oyewole TA, Adedara A, Abolaji AO, Ogundipe OM, Akinyelu J, et al. Ackee (Blighia sapida K.D. Koenig) leaves and Arils methanolic extracts ameliorate CDCL2-induced oxidative stress biomarkers in drosophila melanogaster. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2022;2022:1–20. doi:10.1155/2022/3235031
- Seeff L, Stickel F, Navarro VJ. Hepatotoxicity of herbals and dietary supplements. Drug-Induced Liver Disease. 2013;631–57. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-387817-5.00035-2
- Peinado AB, Rojo-Tirado MA, Benito PJ. El azúcar y el ejercicio físico: su importancia en los deportistas [Sugar and exercise: its importance in athletes]. Nutr Hosp. 2013 Jul;28 Suppl 4:48-56. Spanish. doi:10.3305/nh.2013.28.sup4.6796. PMID: 23834092. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23834092/
- Staff Familydoctor org E. Nutrition for athletes [Internet]. American Academy of Family Physicians; 2023 [cited 2023 Jun 22]. Available from: https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-for-athletes/#:~:text=It%20should%20include%20foods%20full,vegetables%20to%20fuel%20your%20body