The first ackee tree in Jamaica was grown from a seed brought on-shore from West Africa by a captain of a slave ship in 1778. The common name is derived from the West African Akan akye fufo. The ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, and ackee & saltfish is the national dish.
The fruit has three black seeds surrounded by yellow flesh and a skin that turns red when it is mature. Once it is ripe the red skin opens and reveals the yellow flesh & seeds. Because of the toxins contained in the fruit, it should not be picked until the skin has opened and the yellow flesh & seeds can be seen.
Unripe ackees contain a poison called hypoglycin. Consumers of the unripe fruit sometimes suffer from an illness dubbed “Jamaican Vomiting Sickness “ (JVS).
Outside of Jamaica, the ackee is not widely consumed, but people in Ghana use the flowers of the tree to make soap and perfume. In some African countries, the pods are crushed and thrown into the water where they have a narcotic effect on fish, making them rise to the surface where they can be easily caught. Ackee is now found in many Caribbean countries and in South Florida, brought there by migrating Jamaicans.