Noni is a pale green fruit with a bumpy surface, grown throughout the tropics and popularly used in Samoan and Hawaiian plant medicine. Also known as ‘cheese fruit’ or ‘vomit fruit’, due to its unpleasant smell, noni has been hailed as a superfood by some, thanks to its high antioxidant content, and other purported health benefits.
A relative of the coffee plant, noni is native to Southeast Asia and Australasia, and was spread across the Pacific by Polynesian sailors. It has over a hundred names across different cultures, including great morinda, Indian mulberry, beach mulberry, vomit fruit, and cheese fruit.
Its strong smell means, in many cultures, it is only eaten in times of food scarcity, but it is a staple food in others. It can be consumed raw and seasoned with salt, cooked in curries or with rice, and the seeds are sometimes roasted. In Thailand, noni leaves are known as bai-yo, and can be cooked with coconut milk to make a dish known as kaeng bai-yo, while the fruit itself is called luk-yo and is sometimes included in green papaya salad (som tam).
Uses of Noni Fruit
Despite its somewhat bitter flavour, many people consume noni for its supposed health benefits. It is available as a juice or tea, and as a supplement in both powder and capsule form. It may also be used as an ingredient in cosmetic products like lotions and soaps.
Traditional Hawaiian noni juice is made using a drip-extraction method, where ripe noni fruits are left in juice collection vessels until all the juice has dripped away from the pulp. The noni juice ferments as it separates from the pulp, turning from amber to dark brown. Many modern producers simply squeeze the juice in a press, however, creating an unfermented, fruitier and lighter-coloured juice.
Noni juice is often mixed with other juices such as raspberry, strawberry or grape to make it more palatable. It may also contain added sugar in varying amounts, so be sure to check the label.
Noni is also available in tea form, which is most often made from the dried and roasted leaves of the plant, but may also contain fruit and even bark. It is usually mixed with green tea and spices like ginger, again to improve the taste, with many blends containing more green tea than noni. As with the juice, some teas may contain sugary flavourings, so always check the label.
Benefits of Noni Fruit
Noni is used to treat a variety of ailments in both Samoan and Hawaiian traditional medicines. These include colds, flu, diabetes, anxiety, high blood pressure, and many more. There has also been some research carried out by modern medicine into the potential health benefits of noni, but these are still in very early stages, and largely inconclusive.
One study, using rats, suggests that the anti inflammatory properties of noni juice may help prevent liver damage caused by ingesting certain toxins. Conversely, however, noni juice has been known to actually cause liver damage in a handful of cases, so more research is needed in this regard.
Noni juice is a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants, which provide a boost to the immune system, and may be the reason Hawaiian and Samoan peoples found them useful for cold and flu symptoms. It is also a good source of B vitamins biotin and folate, which help your body convert food into energy. In this sense, noni can be said to have health benefits - just don’t expect any miracles, and be sure to check those juice labels for hidden sugars.
Noni is not for everyone, and should be avoided by people with chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, as it is high in potassium and may lead to unsafe levels of this compound in the blood. It also has a mild laxative effect, so be careful not to drink too much.
Recipes with Noni Fruit
There’s no denying that noni is best enjoyed when mixed with other foods. This noni and banana nut bread, from Keola Magazine is full of good things like nuts, raisins, ripe bananas and spices, with the added antioxidant goodness of noni fruit and none of the bitterness. And for a delicious health drink, try this Polynesian noni shake by Vaya, with noni, vitamin-packed kale and the tropical fruit flavour of pineapple and mango.