Soursop demand leads to high retail prices

As interest in superfoods and natural health remedies grows around the world, awareness of exotic fruits like soursop is also on the rise.

Soursop has got a lot of attention over the past few years following research that indicated it could be used in the treatment of cancer.

The fruit – which is native to South America – has traditionally been used to treat a wide range of ailments including colds and flus, with both the fruit and the leaves containing high amounts of vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals.

While soursop can be relatively easy to grow, the size of the fruit and speed at which it ripens when picked bring a lot of challenges for commercial sales of the fruit.

“There’s a lot of demand for soursop, but it’s very difficult to transport,” Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm owner Liz Hirst says.

“Once soursop ripens, it lasts about 24 hours before it basically turns to mush unless it's refrigerated, so you have to pick around 7 days before ripening. But even then, it would take at least three to four days for us to transport the fruit from Cape Tribulation [in Far North Queensland] to Sydney or Melbourne.”

She says the seasons and yields for soursop also vary significantly from year to year.

“This year we’ve had fruit from June right through til now, but there’s normally a bit of a break around October,” she says.

“The amount of fruit we get really varies too – as it does for a lot of exotic fruit. With soursop, we have some that are dense, where you might get 30-40 fruit on a tree and then five to six fruit on others. Sizes range from 800 grams up to three kilograms.

The Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm doesn’t sell the fruit commercially at the moment – focusing more on introducing people to a wide range of exotic fruits in a natural environment. But Mrs Hirst says that they do take a number of private orders and also sell a tea made from the leaves.

“Because it’s believed to have anti-cancer properties, we get a lot of people buying leaves for tea. We prepare the leaves before selling them, but keep them as natural as possible,” she says.

“Nothing here is sprayed, and we just take the leaves and semi-dry them and pack them up to send to customers.”

The anti-cancer claims associated with soursop come from lab studies that have shown soursop extracts to be active against a range of cancer cell lines, including breast, lung, colon, prostate, liver and skin cancer – although no studies have yet been conducted with humans.

Animal studies, on the other hand, have shown extracts from the leaves can have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-diabetic, antiulcer and antiviral effects.

“Retail on them is crazy as well,” Mrs Hirst says. “On they sell for $70 a fruit, although we sell ours at $30 a fruit.”

“With the leaves, we undercut market because I think important people in need get it at an affordable price. So we sell them in 230g bags for $25 – and that makes about 200 cups of tea. I’ve seen others selling them for $39.”

Regardless of the potential health benefits, Mrs Hirst says the fruit is delicious and versatile in its own right.

“It’s just about my favourite fruit in the world,” she says.

“It’s quite juicy, but also quite fibrous as well, so it’s a bit of an explosion when you eat it. It’s tangy in a way, kind of like lemon and lime but not as sharp –maybe more like pineapple or passionfruit – with a creamy aftertaste."

As well as being eaten raw, she says soursop makes a great jam, sorbet and daiquiris and is “a beautiful fruit to cook with”.

The Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm has 77 soursop trees and sells the organic, dried leaves throughout Australia, with production every 3-4 weeks (depending on orders and weather conditions).

For more information
Liz Hirst
Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm
Tel: +61 424 948 014

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