African horned cucumbers, known as kiwano, are unique and exotic fruits with spiky and juicy green interiors, a sweet and tart flavor, and a crunchy bite. The fruit’s complex palate makes it a highly versatile ingredient in a wide range of cuisines worldwide.
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What is an African Horned Cucumber?
The African Horned Cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus), also known as kiwano, spiked melon, jelly melon, or horned melon, is a traditional food plant native to the Kalahari Desert in Africa. It gets its name from its spiny, horn-like protrusions that cover its bright orange-yellow skin.
The oval-shaped fruit typically ranges from 3-5 inches in length. When cut open, the fruit’s flesh is lime green and contains numerous tiny edible seeds.
The taste of the African Horned Cucumber is often described as a cross between a cucumber and a kiwi, with a tart, citrusy flavor and a slightly sweet watermelon undertone. The fruit is typically eaten raw and is often used in salads or as a garnish, but you can also use it in smoothies, cocktails, and other drinks.
In addition to its culinary uses, the African Horned Cucumber is also used in traditional African medicine to treat various ailments, including fever, headaches, and stomach problems.
What Does an African Horned Cucumber Taste Like?
When eaten raw, the flesh of the horned cucumber is juicy, and the texture is similar to that of a cucumber or a melon. The fruit’s taste can be described as a combination of banana, lemon, passionfruit, and cucumber, with hints of tartness and melon-like sweetness. The seeds inside the fruit are edible and crunchy, similar to pomegranate seeds.
When cooked, the flavor of the horned cucumber becomes more subtle, and the texture becomes mushy. However, you can use the fruit in various dishes, as its tangy and refreshing flavor can complement other intense flavors.
How to Tell When an African Horned Cucumber is Ripe
Looking at the color of a kiwano is the best way to know when it is ripe. A ripe African horned cucumber will be bright golden orange and won’t have any bruising. If it has any other hues, it’s not mature enough. Unripe kiwanos will have a green exterior and tend to be very bitter.
Kiwano melons should still be primarily firm to the touch with a slight give to them. Another way to tell is by holding the melon in your hand; if it feels heavy, it’s ripe enough.
Cooking with the Kiwano Melon
First, get yourself some kiwano melons, making sure that they’re ripe! Then, follow the next steps to prepare and eat this exotic wonder:
- Wash the Kiwano melon thoroughly under running water to remove chemicals and pesticides.
- Cut the Kiwano melon in half right in the middle.
- Use a spoon to scoop out the green flesh and use it in smoothies or sauces – or eat it as is. Alternatively, you can scoop or spit the seeds if you don’t enjoy the extra crunch.
- Add salt and sugar to accentuate the natural taste of the fruit.
Kiwano melon is mainly consumed raw as a snack or in salads, though it can also be used in various cuisines, particularly in Africa.
The sweet and tangy flavor of kiwano melon pairs well with other fruits and vegetables in a smoothie or juice. Another way to enjoy kiwano melon is by adding it as a topping over ice cream or Greek yogurt. The texture and refreshing taste make it an excellent compliment to these creamy treats.
Kiwano melon can also be mixed through fruit salad or used as an ingredient in fresh salsa, raita, and guacamole. These savory dishes benefit from the fruit’s subtle sweetness.
For those who enjoy cocktails and mocktails, kiwano melon can be used to create refreshing and tropical beverages. The fruit’s unique appearance and flavor make it a great garnish or ingredient in drinks.
Dollop kiwano on seafood or grilled chicken for a sweet and tangy addition to your savory dishes. Kiwano melon’s juicy texture and flavor make it an excellent topping for these protein-rich foods. Lastly, you can add it to soups with other vegetables and spices, such as onions, garlic, carrots, and celery.
How to Store African Horned Cucumber
Ideally, you should keep African horned cucumbers at room temperature and consume them within a few days when ripe. It isn’t recommended to store it any other way, as it will retain its freshness in its complete form for much longer.
If stored at low temperatures, kiwanos will decay at a quicker rate than if they are stored at room temperature.
Nutritional Benefits of African Horned Cucumber
Kiwano melon is packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A, lutein, and zinc, all of which contribute to reducing inflammation and the risk of developing chronic diseases. The seeds also have vitamin E, another important antioxidant.
High levels of magnesium and zinc present in the fruit aid in improving bone health and general mood.
Additionally, the vitamin C in kiwano melon can help the absorption of iron, which in turn supports red blood cell production. It’s also a great source of hydration since it’s made of 88% water and has electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium.
Where to Purchase African Horned Cucumber
African horned cucumbers are found in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. But where can you purchase it?
Kiwano melons peak in spring and summer but are typically available year-round. They grow everywhere and are exported worldwide, so you’ll find them easily in most supermarkets.
You can purchase them online if you are having trouble finding African horned cucumbers in local stores or markets. Several online retailers specialize in exotic or international produce and may offer African horned cucumber when it is in season.
Be careful when foraging this fruit! It’s best to look for the commercially available variety since the wild version of this fruit can have toxic and bitter compounds.