This tropical fruit has many names and just as many health benefits. It contains powerful antioxidants, speeds up your metabolism, and tastes delicious. Read on to find out whether you should add passion fruit to your diet.
Passion fruit is a purple or yellow tropical fruit that grows on the vine of several members of the Passiflora genus, most notably Passiflora edulis. Besides “passion fruit,” it has many names, including maracuya in Spanish, maracuja in Portuguese, and lilikoi or liliko’i in Hawaiian [R].
Passion fruits have a tart, almost sour flavor. Unsurprisingly, the fruits get sweeter and less tart the riper they are [R].
Passion fruit has a handful of uses in traditional medicine. Among the Kalenjin people of Kenya, pregnant women eat passion fruit to increase their blood volume, help with appetite and digestion, and improve the skin of the baby after birth. In South America, passion fruit is a traditional tonic for anxiety, insomnia, asthma, bronchitis, and urinary tract infection [R, R].
The edible part of the passion fruit is the juicy, pulpy interior. Somewhat like a pomegranate, passion fruit has many seeds, each surrounded by a casing of sweet flesh. Passion fruit seeds are edible and contain a powerful antioxidant called piceatannol [R, R].
Despite being a healthy and nutritious fruit, most people eat passion fruit for its pleasant flavor.
Of these, the yellow passion fruit is larger, hardier, and more often used for juice production, but the purple passion fruit is sweeter and more aromatic. They are both round fruits with thick skins; they contain many seeds encased in sweet flesh [R, R].
A third type of passion fruit, the so-called banana passion fruit, is long (shaped like a banana or a zucchini) whereas the classic yellow and purple passion fruits are round. Banana passion fruits are actually the fruits of multiple closely related species (including Passiflora tarminiana and Passiflora mollissima) [R, R].
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 100 g of purple passion fruit has 97 calories, 11.2 g of total sugars and 10.4 g of dietary fiber. Purple, yellow, and banana passion fruits also contain significant amounts of [R, R]:
The mineral content of passion flower, which produces the fruit, varies based on the mineral content of the soil it grows in. One study found significantly higher calcium and magnesium levels in fruits fertilized with cattle manure as opposed to a synthetic mineral fertilizer [R].
Passion fruit rind and peel have been studied as a potential source of dietary fibers that can be used to enrich other foods. Passion fruit peel can be milled into a flour that contains between 25% and 37% soluble fiber [R, R].
The flavonoids found in passion fruit and banana passion fruit include:
In one review of 24 exotic fruits, banana passion fruits were found to have the most antioxidant activity and the highest concentration of phenolic compounds [R].
Purple passion fruit peel and seeds contain considerably more anthocyanins than those of other varieties. Anthocyanins improve the health of many organs and systems, including the heart, brain, eyes, and liver. They may also delay diabetes and reduce inflammation [R, R].
Passion fruit seeds and seed extract are rich in an antioxidant stilbenoid called piceatannol. Similar to resveratrol, piceatannol improves insulin sensitivity and may reduce blood pressure and heart rate [R, R].
Passion fruit is often studied as part of a whole fruit or extract, with a mixture of bioactive compounds that carry its overall benefits [R].
The antioxidant cocktail in passion fruit may have a significant anti-inflammatory effect.
In a cell study, piceatannol, most abundant in the seeds, significantly reduced inflammatory cytokines released by white blood cells (macrophages) in fat tissue. Low-grade chronic inflammation caused by these white blood cells in fat tissue can lead to chronic diseases [R, R].
Plus, anthocyanins – found in purple passion fruit peel and seeds – similarly lower inflammatory compounds (IL-6 and other cytokines) [R].
And curiously, these exotic fruits also contain polyamines. We know little about polyamines, but their excessive breakdown has been linked to oxidative stress, aging, and inflammation. Passion fruit (especially unripe fruits) may help restore polyamine levels in the brain, liver, and kidneys [R, R, R].
In a study of 33 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, 150 mg per day of purple passion fruit peel extract significantly improved pain, freedom of movement, and physical function. Unfortunately, the study only tested a single dosage for about two months [R].
Proanthocyanidins in passion fruit may help people with allergic asthma by reducing inflammation in the airway. Interestingly, some South American traditions used passion fruit to manage asthma and bronchitis [R, R].
In one human trial, an extract of purple passion fruit peel improved the symptoms of people with asthma. People who took 150 mg per day of the extract had less wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath compared to no improvement from the placebo. None of the participants suffered any side effects from the extract [R].
Different parts of passion fruit may be used to manage metabolic disease and obesity. Piceatannol, found in the fruit seeds, is especially promising: it may prevent the formation of new fat tissue, reduce blood sugar, and prevent insulin resistance [R].
Proanthocyanidins, such as those in the fruit flesh, improved the gut flora in mice fed a high-fat diet. They might work by preventing harmful bacteria from sticking to the walls of the gut. This effect has not yet been confirmed in humans [R, R].
Anthocyanins, meanwhile, reduced inflammation in fatty tissues in obese rats [R].
We can also go slightly off the beaten trail for antidiabetic effects. Yellow passion fruit peel can be milled into a flour that improved insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes [R].
A closely related species of wild passion fruit (Passiflora ligularis) – also known as sweet granadilla – may also be a source of medicinal compounds [R].
In a study of diabetic rats, water extracts from sweet granadilla fruit brought blood sugar and blood protein levels back to near normal. Extracts also boosted antioxidants like glutathione, vitamin C, and vitamin E. The fruit extract was nearly as strong as glibenclamide, a diabetes medication [R].
Passion fruit might disrupt deep-rooted fat-building pathways in the body.
Piceatannol, the major antioxidant in passion fruit seeds, blocks fat production and enhances energy metabolism. It works by blocking several fat growth pathways (including Akt, insulin signaling, ERK, and possibly PI3K). All together, this helps prevent new fat from forming [R].
Piceatannol also activates AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a key fat- and sugar-burning enzyme. AMPK prevents the formation of new fat tissue and speeds up the rate at which sugars and fats are burned. This enzyme also lowers blood sugar, making it an excellent target for diabetes management [R, R].
Passion fruit, and especially the seeds, may support heart health by lowering blood pressure, fats, and oxidative stress.
The main active compound in passion fruit (piceatannol) relaxes the blood vessels, stabilizes the heartbeat, and prevents the growth of unneeded new blood vessels. In rats, it also helped keep the heart muscle healthy despite weight gain [R, R].
Additionally, large doses of the pulp of yellow passion fruit reduced blood pressure and oxidative stress in rats [R].
In a very recent rat study, the peel extract of passion fruit protected the liver and kidneys from damage from toxic chemicals. Of three varieties tested, purple passion fruit had the best protective effect [R].
The study brings something else to our attention: how many times have you thrown away the peel of various fruits? Passion fruit peel, specifically, is a major economic waste. Most people just toss it straight in the garbage. But as it turns out, this cheap “waste” is rich in beneficial, neglected, protective compounds!
As mentioned above, the peel can also be milled into flour and seems to be good for people with diabetes [R].
Enthusiasm aside, the above rat study was published in 2019. Human trials are still lacking to back up their results. Meanwhile, passion fruit peel extracts or flour are not yet widely available.
Passion fruit seed oil, often sold under the name “maracuja oil,” is rubbed into the skin, nails, and hair to soften them and prevent breakage. A blend of passion fruit seed, raspberry seed, and peach kernel oils increases the oiliness and hydration of human skin without adverse effects. Maracuja oil also has a strong cultural history of use in curly, coarse hair [R].
Most reviews of maracuja oil are positive, with claims that the oil helps moisturize and heal cracks and small wounds like mosquito bites.
People have mixed feelings about the oil’s smell; some say it’s very pleasant, while others can barely tolerate it. Some also complain about a lack of consistency in maracuja oil products. A few have even reported receiving rancid oil from a company that they had previously reviewed highly.
Be sure to buy the oil from a trusted company with consistently good reviews to avoid disappointment.
Passion fruit is considered very safe – about as safe, in fact, as other commercial, edible fruits. In rats, doses of up to 8 g per kg of body weight per day were highly beneficial, with no adverse effects reported [R].
People with latex allergies are sometimes also sensitive to other plant-based proteins, including some found in passion fruit. If you have a latex allergy and you’ve never eaten a passion fruit, you may want to avoid them. At the very least, be aware of the risk [R].
The most potentially dangerous compounds in passion fruit are the cyanogenic glycosides. In the body, these compounds release hydrogen cyanide, a highly toxic chemical. Fortunately, passion fruit does not contain enough cyanogenic glycosides to be worrying. Other foods that have far more include bitter almonds and uncooked cassava [R, R, R].
Unfortunately, there are few human studies on the health benefits of the whole passion fruit or fruit extract. While the chemical composition of passion fruit is fairly well established, each of its components is often studied in the context of other fruits and vegetables.
Passion fruit peel has shown the most direct therapeutic potential. In a handful of human studies peel flour and extracts reduced blood sugar and inflammation. However, peel flour and extract are extremely difficult to find and buy, so the usefulness of this research is currently very limited.
Passion fruits can be eaten raw, juiced, or puréed.
When picking passion fruit, approach it similar as you would other fruits. The darker its color and softer to touch, the riper it is. The color will also depend on the variety (yellow, red, or purple), but green fruits are unripe. The skin should be smooth and free of large wrinkles and bruises.
To eat the fruit, simply wash it and cut in half with a knife. Scoop out the contents with a spoon and eat straight up or add to your smoothie.
The juice and purée found in stores often have sugar or other sweeteners added because of the tart flavor of the unprocessed fruit. But these are the least processed forms of passion fruit available.
The fruit and purée are often added to drink and dessert recipes to give a tropical kick to a sweet treat. These aren’t the healthiest ways to consume passion fruit, but they sure are tasty!
Others like to add passion fruit to savory dishes as well, such as meat or fish. It adds a distinct flavor when mixed into various sauces and dressings.
A few more steps of processing produces tea, syrup, jam, and extracts. Dried fruit can be added to blended tea to give it a fruity, acidic flavor. Sugary passion fruit syrup is added to carbonated water, iced tea, or other drinks. Jams and jellies can also be heavily sweetened.
The more sugar is added to the fruit, the less of a benefit you’re likely to see – especially when it comes to antidiabetic effects.
Passion fruit extracts are rarer, and they tend to be marketed as a flavoring for baked goods and fancy desserts. Passion fruit peel extract and peel flour have been the recent subject of research, but they are very difficult to find.
Passion fruit seed oil and seed butter are usually sold under the name maracuja, which is the Portuguese name for passion fruit. These forms are marketed as moisturizers for the skin, hair, and nails.
Research tells us little about how much passion fruit its best to eat. Using a common tool to convert dosages between animals and humans, we can guess that 1.2 g per kg of body weight per day might reduce blood pressure. That would be 80 g for a person who weighs 150 lbs, which amounts to about one larger passion fruit per day [R, R].
Much of the clinical research specifically focused on the peel extract and flour. They have found that:
Find the fresh fruit at your local store or market.
You can get the natural fruit puree online (it’s sweetened with cane sugar, though).
The seed oil (maracuja) oil is also available online:
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