Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reporting from Jamaica!

This week, City Science Kids is reporting from the Northern Jamaican town of Ocho Rios. Here's a map, showing where in Jamaica Ocho Rios is located:

We've learned all kinds of amazing things on our trip, and discovered all sorts of trees, plants, wildlife, customs we had never encountered before. Like this:

This is the unripe fruit of the ackee tree (scientific Latin name: Blighia sapida). The ackee tree is an evergreen (that is, it stays green all the time) that was brought to the Caribbean from West Africa in the 18th century. The ackee fruit is the national fruit of Jamaica and shows up in the national dish, ackee and saltfish. (We actually tried it at breakfast one morning and it tastes plenty like fish but nothing like fruit. In fact, we thought we were eating a plate of salty, fishy scrambled eggs until our waitress set us straight.) 

But the most surprising thing about ackee is: it's poisonous! That's because it contains a chemical called hypoglycin. In unripe ackee fruit, hypoglycin builds up and if it's eaten, it causes Jamaican Vomitting Sickness—we're sure you can guess what that is! The way to get rid of this chemical is to let the fruit ripen all the way, until it looks like this (drawn here with the national bird of Jamaica, the swallowtail hummingbird):

Then, you discard the big black seeds and any part of the fruit that's colored red, and boil the flesh (making sure you throw that boiling water out, because it will be full of poison). Then you cook it up and eat it with saltfish. Yum!

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