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The Pepino Melon: Its Gastronomical Uses and Nutrition

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Unknown outside of South America before the 1980’s, the pepino melon , a relative of the tomato, can now be seen at supermarkets in Europe and North America. Some experts are even calling pepino a ‘superfruit,’ because of high nutritional cont

The name of this fruit, pepino melon or pepino is slightly misleading. The word pepino means ‘cucumber’ in Spanish, suggesting that this fruit is a cross between cucumber and melon. In fact, the pepino differs significantly from a cucumber, and neither is it a melon. It is in fact a member of the Solanaceae family, commonly known as nightshade. Other species of this botanical family include tomato, potato, peppers and eggplant.

The pepino melon is native to Peru and in particular the Andean region from northern Ecuador to southern Colombia. Since the 1990’s exotic fruit markets have taken an interest in the pepino, and it is now cultivated in many subtropical and temperate regions including California, Israel, Spain, New Zealand and the Netherlands. It grows on a herbaceous bush or shrub, that reaches a height of about three feet and bears attractive purple flowers. The fruit is oval shaped and usually about the size of an egg, although some species are larger. The pepino is green when unripe, with purple streaked markings on its smooth skin, turning yellow or orange-yellow when ripe. Similar to melon, the pepino has a small cavity filled with tiny edible, sweetly flavored seeds.

Gastronomical Uses, Buying and Storing: The taste of pepino melon could be described as across between pear and a sweet melon, like cantaloupe. Often pepino is chilled and enjoyed raw, just slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Pepino pairs well in savory salads with avocado and as an accompaniment to cured meats. As a dessert this fruit can be poached in a simple syrup and served with ice cream. It is also used as a garnish or pureed and combined with other fruits, such as mango, to make sorbet. Unripe green pepino melon is often cooked like squash and in south and central America pepino is used to make an invigorating and refreshing juice.

When choosing pepino melons at the supermarket look for firm fruit that yield to slight pressure. Fruits that are slightly green should be stored at room temperature until they ripen. After which, they will keep in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for about 3-4 days.

Nutritional content: The Pepino melon has a high vitamin content which helps protect against cardiovascular and other chronic diseases such as cancer. It is a good source of vitamins C, A and B complex, also vitamin K. This fruit is also a significant source of potassium, which is thought to help lower blood pressure.

The yellow-orange color pigments in this fruit known as carotenoids help repair DNA cells (anti-aging) and neutralize harmful free radicals. The edible skin of pepino contains powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Also found in pepino, vitamin K is important in the production of bone protein and therefore bone development in children. It is thought to relieve rheumatism and help prevent osteoporosis. Also, a diet rich in vitamin K, and or vitamin K supplements may help people who suffer with Hemophilia, because the primary function of vitamin K is blood clotting.

According to the Israel Diabetic Association the pepino is low in sugar, which makes raw pepino a safe fruit for diabetics. In traditional medicine pepinos are used to treat respiratory infections such as bronchitis. This fruit is also used to treat skin problems.

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Peter Bilton

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