Cassabananas are large, delicious cucumber-like tropical fruits native to South America. These unusual fruits are known for their sweet, aromatic scent akin to pumpkin and watermelon.
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What is a Cassabanana?
Cassabanana (Sicana odorifera) is an edible fruit produced by a fast-growing herbaceous vine in the Cucurbitaceae (cucumber) family.
It’s also known as casbanan, sikana, musk cucumber, and puttigel. In addition, this fruit has many regional names, including:
- Olerero and Padea in Peru
- Cura, Melão Caboclo, and Coróa in Brazil
- Calabaza de Chila in Costa Rica
- Calabaza de Guinea in Venezuela
- Curuba or Pepino Melocotón in Colombia
- Melocotón and Melón de Olor in Guatemala
- El Salvador, Cojombro in Nicaragua
- Pavi in Bolivia
Cassabanana is a large, cylindrical fruit measuring 12-24 inches (30-60 cm) long and 3-5 inches (7.5-12.5 cm) wide. The fruit has a uniform shape with blunt edges, resembling a giant cucumber or guard. But it has stiff, smooth, glossy skin with a tough, waxy texture.
Cassabanana fruits have a yellow-orange or orange flesh containing many black-brown seeds. The dense pulp is juicy, crisp, and chewy and has a mild, sweet, and musky flavor.
Cassabanana vines grow fast and climb using their adhesive tendrils to reach a height of about 50 feet. They’re also hardy and thrive in full sun, although they can survive in different climates.
The History of Cassabananas
Cassabananas originated in the Atlantic forest in Brazil, South America, where they grew in the wild for ages.
It’s believed cassabananas also existed in other parts of South America, including Ecuador, during the Early Ages. Historical records written by European explorers account for cassabananas in Peru in 1658. Later, traders and migrating people introduced the fruit to Central America and the Caribbean countries.
In 1913, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) received cassabanana seeds from C.A. Miller, an American consul in Tampico, Mexico. Later, other botanists, including H.M. Curran and Professor John Thieret, brought cassabanana seeds from different South American regions into the United States.
Today, cassabananas are cultivated for ornamental and consumption purposes in South America, Central America, Southern Mexico, and the Caribbean. For instance, the fruits grow as ornamental vines in Venezuela and Brazil and they are prized as fruit crops in Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.
Traditionally, cassabananas had spiritual value in Northern Peru. The fruit was believed to heal spiritual illnesses and nervous system disorders.
In South America, the fruit was used as a spiritual offering symbolizing faith in churches during the Holy Week. In Puerto Rico, cassabananas were soaked and slightly fermented in sugared water to treat fevers and sore throats.
What Does a Cassabanana Taste Like?
Raw cassabananas have a mild, sweet, and musky taste, similar to a cucumber, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and banana mixture. Hence, ripe cassabananas are eaten as snacks, especially in summer to provide a cooling and refreshing effect.
Mature cassabananas have a subtly sweet taste when cooked into sweets and desserts. The immature fruits are also cooked as vegetables or added to soups, curries, and stews.
How to Tell When Cassabanana is Ripe
Here are some tips on how to tell when a cassabanana is ripe or ready to eat:
|Mature cassabanana fruits turn from green to dark red, orange-red, maroon, red-purple, dark purple, or black when ripe. Also, the flesh becomes yellow or orange when the fruit ripens.
|Ripe cassabananas have a smooth, glossy texture.
|Cassabananas retain their firm and tough skin even when ripe. But the flesh will have a juicy, stringy pulp.
|You’ll know cassabananas are ripe when you detect a strong, sweet melon-like smell.
Are Cassabananas and Bananas Related?
No, cassabananas and bananas aren’t alike in the slightest. Cassabananas are in the cucumber family and are closely related to melons, cucumbers, squash, and pumpkin.
Here are some similarities and differences between cassabananas and bananas:
- Both are sweet, edible fruits growing in tropical and subtropical climates.
- They’re both eaten raw or in cooked dishes.
- Cassabananas belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, while bananas are in the Musaceae family.
- Cassabananas are fruits, while bananas are classified as berries.
- Bananas have a soft texture that gives in when fully ripened, while ripe cassabananas are firm.
Cooking with Cassabananas
Cassabananas are a staple in many delicacies, especially in Latin America.
Here’s how to prepare the fruit before cooking:
- Wash the cassabanana fruit well under running water.
- Cut the fruit into round segments or wedges.
- Remove and discard the inedible seeds.
Your cassabanana is now ready for cooking. You can chop the raw fruit and add it to your salads, yogurt, or mixed fruit bowls.
The mature, ripe fruit is an excellent addition to stews, soups, and curries. Sautee ripe cassabananas in sugar to make candy or caramelize them into decadent toppings. Still, you can simmer the fruit into jelly, jam, or preserve it.
Cassabananas combine well with milk, brown sugar, vanilla, and cream. They also pair nicely with herbs like mint and parsley.
Here’s a recipe that uses cassabanana as an ingredient:
Cassabanana Puree: This puree is a heartwarming delicacy featuring cassabanana pulp. It’s also easy to make and requires a few ingredients, including milk, butter, pepper, and parsley.
How to Store Cassabananas
Cassabananas are hardy fruits and remain unspoiled for months if kept whole. So you can store them on your counter for a couple of months, ensuring they are dry and protected from direct sunlight.
However, cut cassabananas can quickly go bad at room temperature. So, you should place the pieces in an airtight polythene bag and refrigerate them to help keep their shelf life.
Nutritional Benefits of Cassabananas
Despite their strange appearance, cassabananas are nutritious fruits with many health benefits. They contain vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, including the following:
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that prevents cell damage by neutralizing free radicals, which cause oxidative stress. It also prevents Vitamin A deficiency since it’s a precursor of Vitamin A.
B-complex vitamins: Thiamine (B1) boosts the immune system and helps the body overcome stress. Riboflavin (B2) prevents oxidative stress and nerve inflammation due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Vitamin C is an essential antioxidant that prevents chronic diseases caused by destructive free radicals. It promotes healthy skin, strengthens the immune system, and supports growth and development.
Calcium strengthens bones and teeth. The mineral also supports nerve, heart, and muscle functions.
Phosphorus Is vital in growth and development and the production of DNA and RNA. It also repairs worn-out cells and tissues.
Iron helps in the production of red blood cells. It also supports growth and development.
Protein supports the production of lean muscle. It also helps the body to recover from injury or straining exercises.
Fiber promote a healthy digestive system and helps control blood sugar levels.
Where to Purchase Cassabananas
Since they’re not fragile, cassabanana fruits are available in specialty food stores even when not in season. You can also buy cassabananas from online retailers like Amazon and Etsy.
But you’re more likely to find fresh fruit during its peak season in late summer through fall.