The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish. Saltfish is the Jamaican term for salt cod, a product produced in the North Atlantic, but originally imported to Jamaica by plantation owners as an inexpensive way to feed their slaves. Ackee is a fruit of West African origin, known botanically as Blighia sapida (the name honors Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, who first brought ackee from Jamaica to England), that now grows on trees all over Jamaica. Ackee must be cooked correctly, or it can be toxic. When done right, it's delicious, though not to everyone's taste; you'll either love it or hate it.
Tropical Sun Foods, which imports Jamaican and other specialty products into the U.K., explains some of the peculiarities of ackee cultivation. "When the fruit is young it consists of a red-orange inedible outer pod (the husk) that protects the growing seed and edible component of the fruit. When fully ripened, the pod splits open to reveal two to four shiny black seeds, each having a cream-colored fleshy lobe, the edible portion. The fruit is … reaped manually when the pods begin opening on the tree. If it is picked and eaten when the product is immature, it can cause vomiting."
When the fruit is raw, it is almost odorless. "However," accoding to Tropical Sun, "when it is cooked it takes the flavor of the meat it is cooked with, and has a slight boiled-egg-like texture. It is a bit like tofu, in the sense that it takes the flavor of the seasoning used to prepare it."
Ackee is sold in pod form in Jamaica, but Tropical Sun and a number of other producers sell it in cans, as well.
"It was one of the first products in our range (we’re 21 years old this year)," according to Tropical Sun. "It is still mainly popular with those who are Jamaican, have a Jamaican heritage, adventurous foodies, or those who enjoyed it when visiting the Caribbean and have continued to enjoy it back [home]."