Last updated 19/03/2015
Great morinda is a large shrub or small tree found on beaches and coastal areas across Northern Australia, mainly in the Northern Territory and Cape York region of Queensland. Scientific name morinda citrifolia, it’s common name is cheese fruit due to the potent smell that the ripe fruit produce. The leaves are large, glossy and deeply vained and the fruit are warty looking, green when young and turning almost white when ripe. It produces good quantities of fruit throughout the year.
The offensive smell emitted by the ripe fruit is trully impressive. It needs to be smelt to be believed. The smell is similar to rotting blue vein cheese, with a hint of burn similar to ammonia or sulfur. The first time I picked these fruit, they were white but hard and did not smell. I left them on the kitchen table for a couple of days to ripen. One morning I awoke to a repulsive stench permeating through the house. I thought maybe something had gone bad in the bin. I followed the scent trail which of course led to the fruit. Just before ripening they are firm and do not smell. They ripen suddenly, becoming soft and extremely stinky.
It’s hard to get past the smell when eating the fruit of Great Morinda. I struggled to swallow. The taste is similar to camembert cheese mixed with blue cheese, with a bit of a spicey tang similar to that experienced with strong blue cheese. I could also detect some sweetness, like a generic fruit sort of flavour. The texture is very mushy. Like many strongly flavoured cuisines, I think with some persistence it may be possible to aquire the taste and grow to like them. However the smell is overpowering so you’d have to first grow a tolerance to that. I’ve heard it may be more palatable just before ripening, when the fruit is still firm and odourless. I’ll give that a go next time. The leaves are also edible when cooked although I have not tried them.
Apparently the fruit is rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and is known to help cure colds and flu. Not sure if that’s the vitamin C or the potent smell burning away the germs. In any case it would be handy as a survival food. It is also found in South East Asia where it is used as a famine food. There are also companies selling dehydrated powdered great morinda fruit and great morinda fruit juice, called noni juice. The companies claim the fruit affords various health benefits.
Green ants love great morinda. You’ll find them crawling all over the tree and fruit. Picking the fruit attracks the risk of being attacked by hoards of these aggressive ants.