The Horned Melon or Kiwano: Its Nutrition and Gastronomical Uses
The horned melon is a strange looking fruit that has an almost prehistoric appearance. Until the 1930’s this tropical fruit was little known outside of its native southern Africa. After which it was successfully cultivated in Australia and New Zealand, where it was renamed kiwano, because of its resemblance to kiwi fruit and to help raise its profile.
Despite its name kiwano has no botanical connection to kiwi fruit, in fact kiwano or Cucumis metuliferus is part of the Cucurbitacceae or cucumber family. It is closely related to zucchini, melon and cucumber, indeed kiwano is sometimes called African horned melon or horned cucumber. For many years this fruit was known more as a decorative fruit rather than a fruit that was good to eat, although opinions have changed. These days it is commercially grown in New Zealand, North American and Portugal. Kiwano is available from October to March.
Kiwano its Gastronomical Uses and Storing: Kiwano has a yellow to bright orange colored, inedible, spiky skin. Inside are hundreds of emerald green, gelatinous seeds which have complex flavors ranging from banana to lime, melon and cucumber. The easiest way to eat kiwano is cut it in half and scoop out its pulp. You can also make a refreshing juice by blending the pulp with seeds in a food processor. After which, strain the pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds. To enhance its flavor, add a few drops of lemon or lime juice and a bit of sugar or honey.
The seeds and pulp of kiwano are also great spooned over ice cream, sorbets or yogurt. They can be used to make salad dressing, as a substitute or combined with vinegar. Kiwano fruit pulp pairs well with salty cheeses, such as feta, cucumber and tomato in salads.
Kiwano is ripe when it has turned bright orange. In fact, the brighter the orange, the riper and sweeter the fruit inside. It can be stored at room temperature for about 10 days, although it will keep for several weeks under refrigeration. Kiwano is also more flavorful chilled.
Kiwano and its Nutrition: Ever since the World Health Organization identified the principle nutritional diseases that effect sib-Saharan Africa, research has been carried out to identify plants, such as those of the Cucurbitacceae botanical family, which could provide the necessary nutrients and micro nutrients in order to combat these deficiencies. Because the horned melon can be cultivated in arid regions and is highly nutritious, it may well help to improve malnutrition in Africa and other regions of the developing world.
The horned melon is primarily a good source of vitamin C, potassium and iron. Other minerals less abundant are magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, calcium and sodium. The seeds of horned melon contain a number of fatty acids including linoleic acid and oleic acid. Linoleic acid is one of the omega 6 fatty acid which are essential for human health. Oleic acid, also found in olive oil, is thought to be responsible for the blood pressure reducing effects of olive oil.
Antioxidants: Two of the antioxidants identified in horned melon seeds are a-tocopherol and y-tocopherol. Both are organic forms of vitamin E. Vitamin E has numerous health benefits including healthy skin, heart, muscles, nerves, and red blood cells. Vitamin E also helps neutralize damaging free radicals, that can cause chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. There is also some evidence to suggest that vitamin E could help reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The yellowish-green colored pigment found in the seeds and pulp of horned melon contain the carotenoid, beta carotene, commonly known as vitamin A. Beta carotene helps strengthen the body’s immune system and maintain eye and skin health. It also helps cancer prevention by inhibiting the grow of free radicals. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables that contain carotenoids such as beta carotone, lycopene and lutein could also help repair and protect DNA, thereby slowing the ageing process.
Both images from flickr.com with creative commons licence.