Soursop is the fruit of Annona muricata, a broadleaf, flowering, evergreen tree native to Mexico, Cuba, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America, primarily Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. Soursop is also produced in some parts of Africa, especially in Eastern Nigeria, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. It is in the same genus as the cherimoya and the same family as the pawpaw.
The soursop is adapted to areas of high humidity and relatively warm winters; temperatures below 5 °C (41 °F) will cause damage to leaves and small branches, and temperatures below 3 °C (37 °F) can be fatal. The fruit becomes dry and is no longer good for concentrate.
Other common names include: Coração de Boi (Mozambique), Evo (Ewe, Volta Region, Ghana), Ekitafeeli (Uganda), Mtomoko (Swahili), Aluguntugui (Ga, Greater Accra Region, Ghana), guanábana (Spanish), graviola (Brazilian Portuguese), anona (European Portuguese), graviolo (Esperanto), corossol (French), kowosòl (Haitian Creole), sorsaka (Papiamento), adunu (Acholi), Brazilian pawpaw, guyabano, guanavana, toge-banreisi, durian benggala, durian belanda, nangka blanda, ทุเรียนเทศ [turi:jen te:k] (Thai), sirsak (Indonesia), zuurzak (Dutch), tomoko (Kiswahili), and nangka londa. In Tamil, Malayalam, it is called Mullatha, literally thorny custard apple. The other lesser-known Indian names are shul-ram-fal and Lakshmana Phala, and in Harar (Ethiopia) in Harari language known for centuries as Amba Shoukh (Thorny Mango or Thorny Fruit).
The flavour has been described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus flavour notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavour reminiscent of coconut or banana.
Soursop is widely promoted (sometimes as “graviola”) as an alternative cancer treatment. There is, however, no medical evidence that it is effective.
The flesh of the fruit consists of an edible, white pulp, some fibre, and a core of indigestible, black seeds. The species is the only member of its genus suitable for processing and preservation.
The pulp is also used to make fruit nectar, smoothies, fruit juice drinks, as well as candies, sorbets, and ice cream flavourings.
Due to the fruit’s widespread cultivation and popularity in parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, soursop and its derivative products are consumed across the world, also via branded food and beverage products available in many countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Canada, the United States, the UK, Ireland and Continental Europe, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.
In Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Harar (Ethiopia), it is a common fruit, often used for dessert as the only ingredient, or as an agua fresca beverage; in Colombia and Venezuela, it is a fruit for juices, mixed with milk. Ice cream and fruit bars made of soursop are also very popular. The seeds are normally left in the preparation, and removed while consuming, unless a blender is used for processing.
In Indonesia, dodol sirsak, a sweetmeat, is made by boiling soursop pulp in water and adding sugar until the mixture hardens. Soursop is also a common ingredient for making fresh fruit juices that are sold by street food vendors.
In the Philippines, it is called guyabano, derived from the Spanish guanabana, and is eaten ripe, or used to make juices, smoothies, or ice cream. Sometimes, they use the leaf in tenderizing meat. In Vietnam, this fruit is called mãng cầu Xiêm in the south, or mãng cầu in the north, and is used to make smoothies, or eaten as is.
In Cambodia, this fruit is called tearb barung, literally “western custard-apple fruit.”
In Malaysia, it is known in Malay as durian belanda and in East Malaysia, specifically among the Dusun people of Sabah, it is locally known as lampun. Popularly, it is eaten raw when it ripens, or used as one of the ingredients in Ais Kacang or Ais Batu Campur. Usually the fruits are taken from the tree when they mature and left to ripen in a dark corner, whereby they will be eaten when they are fully ripe. It has a white flower with a very pleasing scent, especially in the morning.
While for people in Brunei Darussalam this fruit is popularly known as “Durian Salat”, widely available and easily planted. It was most likely brought from Mexico to the Philippines by way of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade.
In Australia a variant (Annona reticulata) called “custard apple” is consumed as dessert.
Buying and Storing
- The tips break off easily when the fruit is fully ripe.
- The skin is dark-green in the immature fruit, becoming slightly yellowish-green before the mature fruit becomes soft to the touch.
- Sounds hollow on tapping when fully ripe.
Preparing and Serving
- Best eaten fresh.
- Pulp freezes well.
- Very juicy, and produces a rich creamy juice which is very refreshing.
- The seeded pulp may be torn or cut into bits and added to fruit cups or salads, or chilled and served as dessert with sugar and a little milk or cream.
- Soursop pulp dries very well and makes a good base when mixed with other fruits for fruit roll-ups.
- Immature soursops can be cooked as vegetables or used in soup.
The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center cautions, “alkaloids extracted from graviola may cause neuronal dysfunction and degeneration leading to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease”. The compound annonacin, which is contained in the seeds of soursop, is a neurotoxin associated with neurodegenerative disease, and research has suggested a connection between consumption of soursop and atypical forms of Parkinson’s disease due to high concentrations of annonacin.
In 2010 the French food safety agency (Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des aliments) concluded that, based on the available research findings, “it is not possible to confirm that the observed cases of atypical Parkinson syndrome are linked to the consumption of Annona muricata,” calling for further study on potential risks to human health.
Alternative cancer treatment
The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center lists cancer treatment as one of the “purported uses” of soursop. According to Cancer Research UK, “Many sites on the internet advertise and promote graviola capsules as a cancer cure, but none of them are supported by any reputable scientific cancer organisations” and “there is no evidence to show that graviola works as a cure for cancer” and consequently they do not support its use as a treatment for cancer.
In 2008 a court case relating to the sale in the UK of Triamazon, a soursop product, resulted in the criminal conviction of a man under the terms of the UK Cancer Act for offering to treat people for cancer. A spokesman for the council that instigated the action stated, “it is as important now as it ever was that people are protected from those peddling unproven products with spurious claims as to their effects.”
The Federal Trade Commission in the United States determined that there was “no credible scientific evidence” that the extract of soursop sold by Bioque Technologies “can prevent, cure, or treat cancer of any kind.”
Cancer Research UK also released a statement about the alleged cancer “cure” that included these sentences: “Overall, there is no evidence to show that graviola works as a cure for cancer. In laboratory studies, graviola extracts can kill some types of liver and breast cancer cells that are resistant to particular chemotherapy drugs. But there haven’t been any large scale studies in humans. So we don’t know yet whether it can work as a cancer treatment or not. Many sites on the internet advertise and promote graviola capsules as a cancer cure, but none of them are supported by any reputable scientific cancer organisations. We do not support the use of graviola to treat cancer.”