Noni’s putrid smell and rancid flavor deters many from giving this fruit a second glance. However, citrifolia has a well-deserved reputation as a powerful medicinal. Anecdotes of its benefits range from improved blood pressure to decreased tumor size.
Though most of noni’s wondrous health benefits appear in ancient Polynesian accounts, centuries-old Indian Ayurvedic texts also extol citrifolia’s benefits. In fact, several temples in South India grow the fruit next to sacred basil plants.
Origin of Citrifolia
According to the book, “Noni: Complete Guide for Consumers and Growers,” most of Morinda’s 80 or so species originate in Borneo, New Guinea, Northern Australia and New Caledonia. Some of noni’s oldest ties link to Polynesian villages set amidst Tahitian ruins. Indeed, the culture’s folklore is replete with tales of its heroes living on noni during famines and gaining wondrous powers from its flesh. Locals in these areas still tout noni’s incredible health benefits today, and healers throughout the South Pacific decree citrifolia as a sacred fruit.
Over 2,000 years ago, Polynesian explorers spread the fruit from its native habitat through the Indo-Pacific region. When the Europeans colonized these areas from the 1500s to the 1800s, they too spread the seeds throughout the islands and brought back word of the tree to their respective country of Spain, the Netherlands, France, or England. Noni’s wide distribution is also attributed its buoyant seeds. Botanists believe they floated great distances across the ocean, and kept intact for many months.
Today, citrifolia grows in a variety of regions and habitats, including parts of Africa, Australia, the Caribbean, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guam, the tropical gardens of Hawaii and Florida, islands of the West Indies, the shores of Central and South America, Western Polynesia, and Micronesia, to name a few.
Availability of Noni in India
Noni used to be a quiet fruit, recognized only in health nut circles and among villagers who used parts of the fruit and tree as medicine. Around 2006, however, noni exploded in popularity throughout Western countries. Bottles of expensive noni juice graced the shelves of health food stores, and a small noni craze swept through countries that hadn’t otherwise heard of the fruit. Though the mania has since died down, the explosion of sales inspired some Indian companies to purvey noni products here.
Noni’s planting time is from June to October, but the trees bear fruits year round. Citrifolias grow well in India’s tropical regions, as it requires sandy, saline soil and can tolerate both high and low rain. Noni is exceptionally easy to grow and withstands harsh conditions that several trees cannot. India’s noni growing states include Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
Where to find Noni in India
Fresh noni is not sold in standard produce shops, although health food stores purvey the fruit’s derivatives in the form of powder, tablets, or juices. Despite being naturalized in India, the country does not hold noni in the same high regard as Polynesia or Hawaii. Marketing efforts are slow to take hold, and vendors within India still import most of the fruits from elsewhere despite adequate growing conditions in the country.
Those living South or Central India should consider growing the fruit if interested in its health properties: the trees are remarkably hardy, and they bear fruit within a year of settlement and produce for 40 to 50 years.
Checking for Ripeness in Noni:
Ripe noni is yellow and white in color; very little green should be present, as this indicates it’s still unripe. When at its peak, noni’s the flesh is translucent, soft, and gelatinous. The scent is notorious among growers, with it liked to “smoky rotten cheese.”
Avoid picking fruit from the tree, as the texture will be tough and crunchy. When ready for harvest, the fruits fall naturally. If harvesting commercially, however, pick the fruits when they’re three quarters ripe. The fruits will continue over the course of a week or two.
There’s almost no such thing as a noni too ripe, either—the best time to consume is when it’s near fermentation. Do not be deterred by brown flesh, either, as it’s still edible.
Taste of Noni Fruit and Noni Juice
The taste of noni is universally detested. “Bitter,” seems to be the consensus. Noni has no trace of sweetness, and is instead metallic and astringent. Its gooey, gelatinous texture does little to endear the consumer.
Noni juice’s flavor is only made palatable with the addition of sweeteners, typically grape or apple juice. Once diluted, it’s nearly impossible to discern noni’s taste. Pure, unadulterated juice is described as “smoky coconut” and “rancid cheese.”
Nutritional Value of Noni
Hawaii noni juice nutritional information per 3.5oz/100ml is as follows*
>.1g Fat (negligible)
.5g Protein (negligible)
.4g Ash (negligible)
.6g Fiber (2.4% RDI)
9mg Sodium (negligible)
150mg Potassium (4.2% RDI)
6mg Calcium (negligible)
11mg Magnesium (2.7% RDI)
.4mg Iron (2.2% RDI)
10mg Phosphorous (negligible)
62mg Chloride (1.4% RDI)
B1, B2, B6 (negligible RDI)
70mg of B12 (negligible)
.169mg Pantothenic acid (1.6% RDI)
.194mg Niacin (negligible)
4.07ug Biotin (1.3% RDI)
11.4ug Folic acid (2.8% RDI)
43.2mg Vitamin C (72% RDI)
.05ug of Vitamin E (negligible)
Vitamin A (negligible)
*Nutrition taken from the book, “Noni: The Complete Guide for Consumers and Growers”
Health Benefits of Noni:
Noni fruit has several beneficial chemicals including the following, as per the book mentioned in the “nutrition” section.
--Anthraquinones: antibacterial, anti-viral, cholesterol reducing, anti-tumor, sedative, and a collagen synthesis
--Glycosides: anti cancerous and anti-tumor
--Lignans: antioxidants and arteriosclerosis
--Sterols: necessary for proper hormone function
--Scopoletin: hypertensive, anti-bacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, histamine inhibiting, arthritis, allergies, sleep disorders, headaches, depression and Alzheimer’s
Scientific studies affirm these lengthy health benefits, particularly noni’s anti-cancer activities:
--The John Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu, Hawaii published a paper in 1992 revealing that cancer-inflicted mice that were fed noni lived 105-123 percent longer than the mice in the control group. These studies have since been repeated, affirming noni’s ability to extend the lifespan of mice cancer patients.
--A study conducted by the Institute of Biomedical Sciences and published in Cancer Letter isolated a compound in noni called damnacanthal. This chemical may be responsible for noni’s antiproliferative activity against cancer cells.
--A 2006 study published in Life Sciences found that noni’s scopoletin compound in exhibited anti-proliferative activities against lymphoma cells.
--Although a small sample size, Dr. Scott Gerson of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine conducted a 14-week double blind study, and found that eight out of nine patients who took noni showed lower blood pressure.
--A 2008 study published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin found that noni roots exhibited a hypoglycemic effect on streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.
--A 2008 study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that noni juice protected mice liver from toxic exposure by decreasing hepatotoxic lesions.
--Findings published in a 2009 study in Phytotherapy Research reveals that noni fruits effectively reduce pain and joint destruction caused by arthritis.
--While some studies point to noni consumption as the cause of hepatotoxicity in a select number of cases (total count of 6 as of 2009), another 2009 study published in the “Journal of Toxicological Sciences” found that noni fruit juice had no adverse effects when tested on human liver cells and on 80 rats. Furthermore, noni is on the US Food and Drug Administration’s GRAS list, or, Generally Recognized As Safe to eat.
--Many in the health food community tout noni as an adaptogen capable of aiding “sick” cells with healing. Dr. Neil Solomon MD, PhD, former Presidential Special Advisor on Health Matters, states, “It appears noni is a true adaptogen—it enhances the body’s healing system regardless of the medical treatment a patient is receiving. As an adaptogen, noni brings the body in a more normal balance. If blood pressure or blood sugar is too high, noni will help lower it. If too low, noni helps raise it. Noni is teeming with compounds that have been scientifically proven to have a great deal of efficacy against a myriad of diseases.”
How to Open/Cut Noni:
Ripe fruits may be torn apart with the hands or cut with a simple butter knife. Its skin requires no peeling, although its gelatinous flesh contains many hard, inedible seeds. A single citrifolia may contain over 100 small, triangular seeds.
If noni needs ripening, keep at room temperature for up to a week. Then, transfer to the refrigerator, where the fruits will keep for two weeks. Nonis may also be kept in the freezer with no adverse effects. Note: Always place nonis in a separate bowl— fruits tend to leak juice as they ripen.
Noni juice should be kept in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a year or two. To prevent rapid oxidation, always place the juice in a dark tinted container.
Noni Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Few would ruin a dish by adding noni juice or powder to it. Though the fruit has no culinary applications, it can be juiced or dried and powdered.
--For noni juice, do not use a juicer or blender. Rather, extract the juice through fermentation. Store fresh, translucent noni in a sealed glass container, and leave out in the sun for at least two months. During this time, the juice will naturally seep out of the decaying fruit. The juice should never appear cloudy, as this indicates bacterial contamination. Strain the juice using a fine sieve, and then boil the water for 30 minutes. Once cool, test the pH: it should not exceed 3.5. If higher, this too indicates contamination.
--A faster juicing method entails placing the fully ripe fruits in a bowl, and then transferring to the freezer for 12 hours. As the nonis de-thaw, their juice seeps out and accumulates in the bowl.
--To dry noni fruits, mash the fruit into a pulp. Spread into a thin layer on a tray, and dehydrate for roughly 15 hours. Rotate the trays periodically. Once dried and cooled, pulverize into a powder and transfer to gelatin capsules. Ingest the pills as desired.
Fruits: Apple juice, cranberry juice, coconut water, grape juice, pomegranate juice, lemon, lime
Humorously for those who pay $13 a liter for its juice, locals regard nonis as a famine food, as they’re only consumed in times of mass starvation.
Noni made the list of an old U.S. Department of War survival guide that specified the plants a soldier could eat in the event of being stranded in the Pacific.
Nonis are part of the Rubiaceae family, which includes coffee, West Indian jasmine, and partridgeberry.
Tagase maddi (Kannada)