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Tropical Pick

Soursop – is it the latest miracle food?


wining - dining 16Some hail it a super food and a cure for cancer, others say it’s all hype and it’s just a tasty smoothie ingredient - you decide.

      It’s indigenous to most of the warmest tropical areas in South and North America, including the Amazon as well as the West Indies. The fruit is sold in local markets in the tropics, where it’s called guanábana in Spanish-speaking countries, and graviola in Brazil. Its growth has spread to other tropical regions too, including Southeast Asia, and in English, it’s known as soursop. The fruit pulp is excellent for making drinks and sherbets and, though slightly sour, can be eaten as it comes.

       Before we get to the reason the soursop has made headlines of late, let’s go over the facts. The soursop is a small, upright evergreen tree, five to six metres high, with large, glossy, dark green leaves, and is the largest member of the custard-apple family. Its leaves are believed to have sedative properties, so much so that in the Netherlands they’re sometimes put into pillowslips or strewn on beds to promote a good night’s sleep. The fruit itself has very distinctive soft, green, spiky skin surrounding a white bittersweet flesh, which contains numerous black seeds.

      How do you know when it’s ready to eat? Well, the tips on the skin break off easily when the fruit is fully ripe. The skin is dark-green in immature fruit, becoming slightly yellowish-green before the mature fruit becomes soft to the touch. Fully ripe, soursop sounds hollow when tapped.

         Soursop is best eaten fresh. The fleshy pulp is very juicy, produces a refreshingly rich, creamy juice and freezes well. Seeded pulp may be cut into pieces and added to fruit cups or salads, or chilled and served as a dessert along with sugar and a little milk or cream. Soursop pulp dries very well and makes a good base when mixed with other fruits.

         Soursop has a long, rich history of use in herbal medicine, as well as a lengthy recorded use by indigenous people of Africa and South America for centuries. All parts of the tree are used in natural medicine in the tropics, including the bark, leaves, roots, fruit, and fruit seeds, and different properties and uses are attributed to the different parts of the tree. Generally, the fruit and fruit juice are taken for worms and parasites, to cool fevers, to increase mother's milk after childbirth, and as an astringent for diarrhoea and dysentery. The crushed seeds are used against internal and external parasites, head lice, and worms. The bark, leaves, and roots are considered to be a sedative, antispasmodic, and hypotensive, and are served as a tea.

         Its properties have not been studied in the Western medical community, but soursop is processed and sold in Europe as a supplement, under its more exotic name, graviola. It’s not poisonous or seemingly harmful, but will still require clinical studies and further research in order to determine if it is appropriate for use in standard medicine.

         But it’s not these medicinal qualities that have caused a sensation on the internet of late. Google ‘soursop’ and almost every webpage result is about the fruit’s ‘miraculous’ cure for cancer. You’ll even read all the conspiracy theorists’ views on how the big pharmaceutical companies, having initially done the research on soursop’s cancer cure, shelved the results as they found out that they can’t market and trademark a ‘totally natural product’, so it wouldn’t be in their interests to let the world know about this cancer cure.

         Well, truth be told, soursop is a minimally researched plant for cancer or any other major disease. The reactions with the human body are not completely known except for the fact that it can affect the nervous system. There have also been some reported effects on Parkinson’s disease, though not conclusive. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated or tested soursop for any type of commercial use, therefore its benefits cannot be assessed completely.

         What worries doctors, is that cancer patients decide to forego conventional cancer treatment in lieu of this new ‘miracle cure’, and it should be noted that natural products sometimes cannot be mixed with chemicals or other prescriptions. Experts warn against using the fruit to treat cancer, because, while research suggests soursop can fight the disease, it hasn’t been studied in humans.

         Now while this all sounds rather heavy, one way to look at it is that perhaps adding some soursop to your diet might reduce your risk of cancer, as with many other fresh fruits and vegetables. Let’s hope there is some substance to the claim, and real studies will be conducted soon. And who knows, perhaps soursop will live up to its reputation after all. Until then, have a smoothie or some juice and just enjoy the fruit for what it is.


Rosanne Turner


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