This weekend, my thing-a-day calendar told me about an unfamiliar fruit. “Cultivation of the tropical fruit noni is the most important industry on the French Polynesian island of Maupiti”, explained the Island-themed calendar.

What was news to me is a multi-million dollar industry to other people. Maupiti’s poplation of c. 1200 people is only a small proportion of the world’s noni-cultivators. The fruit, also known as the Indian mulberry, morinda (after its Latin name), canary wood, or cheese fruit (!) is grown from India to Hawaii.

Early transliterations of it wrote the word as “none”, which is more entertaining, if less intuitive for correct pronunciation. See, for example, J. Macrae, Journal. 13 May 1825 in With Lord Byron at Sandwich Islands (1922). 26 “They also cultivate a plant which they name None, for the sake of its fruit, which yields their favorite yellow dye for the tapa cloths.” Tapa cloth is made from the bark of the paper mulberry.

The internet, full of cheerleading for its disputed health benefits, tells me that it’s a trendy fruit – or at least, it was in 2007 when a glut of sites and commentary on it were posted. Search for the fruit by name and you’ll find dozens of them, if you’re interested in what it supposedly accomplishes, from curing cancer to colds.

In any event, newly-sensitized to its existence, I now expect to see noni products everywhere in trendy health food shops. It’s a pity that descriptions of it don’t make it sound more appealing. At least its smell is far worse than its taste.

P. S. My favorite annual fundraiser, which supports the UN World Food Program, is now on, from today until December 25th. It’s a raffle full of amazing and varied food-related prizes, with each ticket going towards a specific prize so you won’t win anything you don’t want or can’t have realistically shipped. More details on Menu for Hope are available from its organizer at Chez Pim.

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*© S. Worthen 2009