The wider we open our eyes to the natural world, it seems, the more there is to see. And everyone from scientists to specialty grocery stores are finding new plants to eat all the time, with ever-better health benefits packed into their fruit juices.
Yet while Noni has been eaten – and drunk – in the South Pacific for thousands of years, it’s been steadily finding itself into more health food staples lately, appearing in everything from drinks to dietary supplements.
So we’ve put together a primer of everything you might want to know about noni fruit, including what may be the most important question of all:
What, Exactly, Is Noni?
When learning about something new, it’s best to start at the beginning!
Noni is a plant of many aliases. In fact, even if you’ve never heard of “noni,” you might have overheard one of its nicknames: Indian mulberry, canarywood, hog apple, cheese fruit, or, if you’re more scientifically-minded, Morinda citrifolia, it’s official botanical designation.
The noni fruit has also picked up a few less-fortunate designations over the years: vomit fruit, thanks to its – shall we say – pungent odor; and cheese fruit, as it’s sometimes called in Hawaii, we can only imagine for a similar reason.
But under that international plant of mystery persona is a straight-forward seedling: Noni is the fruit of an evergreen tree, typically found spread across the Polynesian island chain, Southeast Asia, India and Australasia. Fully grown, it resembles something like a small, white pineapple with nubs instead of spikes along its outside.
Growing in the wake of phosphorous-rich lava flows, the fruit has long been relied upon across Polynesia as a steady – if not always desirable – source of food. In fact, noni is also sometimes called a “starvation fruit,” describing its place in the fruit flavor hierarchy. (In other words, indigenous peoples would traditionally only turn to the fruit in lean times, when their choices were something like “eat noni” or “starve to death.”)
Still, we here at FruitStand would like to defend the lava-grown plant! Demand for noni juice and other noni fruit products is on the rise – which must account for something!
And while research is still very new, there’s some emerging evidence that noni may be worth making a big stink over.
What Do We Know About Noni?
In fact, some of noni’s most practical uses have been known for years.
The plant was used by ancient Austronesian islanders as a source of dye, with the versatile tree’s bark making a pleasant reddish-purple mix and its roots boiling up to produce a bright yellow. Both colors were very important in both Hawaiian and Indonesian culture, where they were heavily used in traditional fabrics and patterns.
Indeed, noni’s color-changing abilities were considered to be so important that they helped earn the fruit a coveted space on the canoes that carried the island-hopping natives across the South Pacific, allowing noni to spread its seeds overseas.
Noni also has some traditional uses as a skincare product, with Polynesian natives turning the fruit into both a tonic and a paste to help with redness, soreness, swollenness or all other manner of skin damage brought on by the sun-soaked locale.
And recent studies have shown that noni does appear to have anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antibacterial properties – along with a slew of antioxidants – that help make it a proper salve for our skin.
But it’s possible the plant is hiding even more health benefits under its stinky surface, which scientists are just beginning to explore.
What Do We Think We Know About Noni?
Noni may have a cute little name, but don’t be deceived: It’s been tied to some truly awesome health benefits.
Along with antioxidants, the fruit can claim high levels of calcium and potassium among its natural charms. And its anti-inflammatory prowess can act as a mild, natural pain reliever.
Noni has also been said to help with everything from high cholesterol to hearing loss, immune system health to osteoarthritis and age-related spinal damage to exercise performance, with a small number of scattered tests showing encouraging – although far from conclusive – results.
A number of clinical trials are also being planned or conducted to examine a potential connection between noni fruit and cancer, with some early research linking noni juice to improved physical function and help against fatigue while fighting the illness.
Still, it’s important to note that the fruit has not been FDA-approved to treat any of these conditions. You should always speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new health routine – including taking noni juice or dietary supplements.
But in the meantime, it’s nice to know that even a “starvation fruit” could help enrich our wellness so fully.