One of the more interesting Caribbean foods is the fruit of the ackee tree. The tree is native to West Africa and was introduced to Jamaica and other West Indian islands in the 18th century. The pear-shaped fruit grows in clusters and, as it matures, changes in color from green to bright red and then to a yellowish orange. Before it ripens, ackee contains dangerous levels of a substance called hypoglycin, which usually causes Jamaican vomiting sickness and, in rare cases, coma and death.
The fruit is fully ripe only when it splits open naturally, revealing three large, shiny, black seeds surrounded by soft and spongy flesh, white to yellow in color, called aril. The aril is the only edible part of the ackee fruit; the black seeds are always toxic. The potential danger notwithstanding, ackee is so popular that it has been named Jamaica’s national fruit, and the country’s national dish is ackee and salted codfish.
Ackee isn’t commercially grown in the United States, so the only ackee generally available for cooking is canned and imported. It resembles scrambled eggs when prepared, and has a similar consistency, with a nutty, buttery flavor. Ackee and saltfish is prepared by sautéing ackee with onions, tomatoes, and salted cod, from which the salt has been leached, as well as other ingredients like bacon.