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Kiwano or African horned melon: the strange tropical fruit that tastes like cucumber and banana

Its flavor is delicate and it tastes like a mix between banana and cucumber; it is kiwano, a colorful tropical fruit also known as African horned melon or African horned cucumber. Increasingly present also in western markets, kiwano has many useful beneficial properties and can be used raw or cooked. So let's find out all about this particular fruit.

By Cookist

Benefits and remedies

A particular fruit, with a yellow exterior dotted with small horns and an intense green interior, almost like that of kiwi; it is the kiwano, an exotic fruit that appears more and more often on the stalls of our markets. Also called African horned cucumber or African horned melon, kiwano is a fruit belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, the same as melon, squash pumpkin, zucchini and cucumbers. Due to its internal similarity to kiwi, this fruit was renamed kiwano during the 1930s, when it began to be imported to Australia and New Zealand. So let’s see where kiwano comes from, what it tastes like, what its benefits are and how to use it in the kitchen.


Kiwano, the identikit of the exotic fruit

The kiwano belongs to the Cucumis metuliferus species, of the Cucurbitaceae family, an African climbing plant that is finding more and more space also in the markets of Western countries. A plant that bears fruit both in December and in summer and which produces these curious "horned" fruits. Unlike what you might think, kiwano has a delicate and slightly watery flavor, with a taste reminiscent of a mix of cucumber and banana and a slightly sweet and sour aftertaste. A typical fruit of the area between South Africa and tropical Africa, which today is marketed in several countries thanks to the ease with which it is grown, its speed of growth and its extraordinary ability to adapt to different types of climate.


Properties and benefits of kiwano

Rich in water and low in calories (50kcal per 100 grams of product), kiwano has a fair amount of carbohydrates and vitamins; among these, in particular, vitamin C. Kiwano is also very rich in mineral salts, especially iron and magnesium, but it is also low in sodium; ideal for those who have to keep blood pressure under control. Furthermore, kiwano boasts a high quantity of beta-carotene, a very important antioxidant that helps slow down premature aging, protecting especially skin, eyes and hair, but also good quantities of oleic and linoleic acid, especially in the seeds. As for its benefits, it is important to remember that:

kiwano has great antioxidant properties, thanks to the polyphenols it contains; important substances to defend us from any degenerative pathologies;

kiwano performs antiviral and antimicrobial functions. The ability of the plant to be very resistant to viruses, in fact, is reflected in the properties of the fruit; it is therefore important to protect us from bacteria and infections and increase the capabilities of our immune system;

kiwano protects and stimulates the gastrointestinal system, thanks to the fibers it contains. In particular, the extract of the kiwano pulp has shown good ability to prevent the formation of ulcers;

kiwano is capable of carrying out a purifying and detoxifying action, thanks to the high water content. Moreover, its low calorie intake makes it ideal for those who follow low-calorie diets and for sportsmen.

How to use kiwano in the kitchen

In Africa, kiwano is eaten whole, with all the peel, roasted or boiled together with other vegetables: the best option, since most of the nutrients are deposited on the peel. The peel, in fact, can be eaten, but only after having cooked it; this is where we find the highest concentration of vitamin C and fiber. Even the seeds, when the fruit is ripe, can be eaten without any problems.

In any case in the West the kiwano is peeled; when you do it, it is good to use protective gloves to avoid the thorns. Once peeled, extracting the pulp is very simple; you can simply add it to a fresh salad or fruit salad; alternatively, you can eat it together with yogurt or simply spread on bread and seasoned with salt, lemon and oil, or with sugar.

If you want to use kiwano in a proper preparation, we still suggest not to cook it, so as not to spoil the delicacy of its flavor. You can try to combine kiwano with fish and shellfish, of which it will enhance the marine notes; kiwano is ideal to use as a combination with a salmon tartare or tuna tartare, or in a ceviche, together with fish and vegetables of various kinds.

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