Saturday, March 5, 2011

Poison in Jamaica

Ganja isn't the only poison in this beautiful island. From December 1, 2010 through January 12, 2011 there were 23 deaths due to ackee poisoning. In 33 days 23 people died from the same symptoms. After investigation they found some similarities, 20 were men, between the ages of 25 and 44, they lived in the northeast parishes, they ate the national fruit. By the way the other deaths were children under 5. sad....

In 2010 there were 194 cases of ackee poisoning. Not all cases are fatal. If the ackee is eaten raw, or prepared improperly, the poisoning lowers the blood sugar to lethal levels. If one is suspected of having ackee posoning and it is detected quickly enough, drinking sweet fluids to get the blood sugar level up may save the person from death.

This national fruit always intrigues me. It has been said that the ackee was imported from West Africa in 1778 probably through a slave ship. The thing is though, West Africa doesn't eat ackee. No other nation eats ackee except Jamaica. Why did the slave ship bring it? Who would have thought to put a plant or a piece of fruit on a ship that you don't eat and I suppose with so many slaves and necesary supplies, why throw ackee on board? Mystery to me, unless they were bringing it to make soap. That is the only thing some West Africans do with ackee! It puzzles me. Denny always asks, how many people died before they found out how to prepare it and not be toxic? Good question. Another question to me is why was this poisonous fruit chosen as the national fruit and why is ackee and saltfish the national dish rather than jerk pork and rice and peas!

No doubt the fruit is absolutely beautiful in color and is very intrigueing. During the summer season the trees are full of fruit and the way the fruit hangs is beautiful but since this last surge of deaths the paper has been full of study and investigation on how these 23 died from the ackee.

After all, you can't live in Jamaica very long before learning that you never eat the fruit from the tree. You never buy it if the fruit is closed. This is one of those dishes that I like to have prepared at the Bible College by Vivian, our wonderful cook! She knows what she is doing. I have never tried to make it at home. I don't know what I am doing!

Recently the paper has been full of reports on what the study has found about these deaths. I have to say I was really surprised. I thought they would find that these 23 people ate at the same cook shop or they purchased their fruits and vegetables at the same market, or the vendor at the market was trying to make a quick dollar on bad ackee or something like that, or the cook opened the ackee by force, or the water that was used to boil the ackee was not discarded immediately, or that the ackee water was reused for the rice.

Interestingly, there was no connection to the ackee sold in tin cans.

No the report says the blame is to go to the weather. The weather of all things. In this beautiful island with sunny skies and puffy clouds, the ackee deaths are blamed on the weather!

Here is the report from the newspaper:

'Demystifying ackee poisoning'
Published: Saturday | February 26, 2011 12 Comments Gareth Davis, Gleaner Writer

PASSLEY GARDENS, Portland:THE RECENT spike in ackee poisoning is being attributed to a lack of adequate sunlight which increases the levels of the toxin hypoglycin, which is found in the fruit.

This argument was put forward on Thursday by Seymour Webster, researcher and lecturer at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education (CASE) in Portland. According to Webster, ackee poisoning mostly takes place during overcast and short-day periods.

"We are supporting the argument that radiance (light or heat) is important," he said.

"Sunlight does not have a direct effect on the hypoglycin levels in ackees, but does have a positive effect on the enzyme as it increases the catalytic activity of the enzyme so that the enzyme breaks down the hypoglycin," he explained.

"It can also be that the fruit, although left to open in its natural state, can still result in poisoning due to the lack of sufficient radiance."

Ackee, Jamaica's national fruit, if not properly ripened, contains high levels of a toxin called hypoglycin.

The I was surprised. Yes during that period we did have lots of overcast skies and black clouds. Yes the skies looked ominous, no we didn't go to the beach during those weeks, but I never gave a thought about the effect of the clouds on the ackee. I was only worried about getting my laundry out early enough to dry on the line, I never thought to worry about the ackee growing on the tree.

I guess it is true, the more you learn, the more you want to learn. The report made me to think, what else is out there to learn about what we digest. Den learned something this week. We see the sugar cane getting burnt off and then getting loaded on the trucks to be harvested. Did you know that you can produce 4 harvests of sugar cane from one planting. After the fields are burnt down, the sugar cane can grow again up to 3 more times! pretty cool. the fire doesn't affect what's underground....makes me think of how deep my faith is and the result of fiery trials. I am not destroyed but rather strengthened, well that could take me into a whole nother thought! I better stop here. Here is a picture of ackee at a roadside market where we bought bananas and grapefruit yesterday.


  1. The people need to wait until the ackee open on the tree. i love that fruit but scared of buying it.

  2. Be careful what you report - it's not the raw ackee that is poisonous it is the unripened ackee or the ackee starved for sunlight. Many people eat raw ackee- even the birds eat it. People sell ackee that wasn't tree ripened and therein lies the problem.

  3. if ackee is jamaica national dish and people out there have been cooking it and preparing it for how long how comes all of a sudden so many people are dying from poisoning all of a sudden all at once? it sounds strange 2 me that so many people including my friend passed away plus this guy was a chef my advise dont eat from just anyone out there trust no one im not saying u cant die from ackee poisoning but so many deaths one time its not right

  4. Ganja isn't poison, it is the healing of the nations.