Fruit has a tendency to raise one’s blood sugar, not propel it to dangerously low levels. But the ackee berry, the national fruit of Jamaica, can do just that—causing hypoglycemia and even death when consumed improperly.
Native to West Africa, today the ackee is eaten primarily in Jamaica. A relative of the lychee, ackee berries are bright red and about the size and shape of a pear. While the fruit is closed tight when unripe, it eventually matures and its pod breaks open, showing its large seeds and tender white flesh. It’s this interior, the arili
, that are edible. High in fatty acids and vitamins, they’re eaten all over the island, either scrambled like eggs as a breakfast or cooked with onions and tomatoes and served with salted cod—one of Jamaica’s national dishes.
But this appealing fruit has a darker side. Unripe ackees, and parts of the fruit’s interior, carry high levels of the potent toxins Hypoglycin A and B. These compounds, as this New York Times
, prevent the body from releasing the liver’s store of glucose. As a result, when one’s blood sugar drops naturally after a meal, the body has no means of restoring bloodstream glucose to normal levels—and the resulting hypoglycemia, if not immediately treated, can be fatal.
These compounds are only in high levels in the unripe fruit, and ackee flesh should always be properly trimmed and boiled; like the legendary blowfish fugu
, the fruit is not dangerous when prepared properly. But adverse reactions are common enough that they’re known as “Jamaican vomiting sickness,” and the fruit is banned altogether in several countries, including the United States. So if you’re down in Kingston, proceed with caution. Adam, Eve, and Snow White can all testify—eating that pretty red fruit isn’t always the greatest idea.