Kiwano (Cucumis metuliferus), also known by various other names such as horned melon, African horned cucumber, hedged gourd, melano and jelly melon is a fruit that belongs to the melon and cucumber family. This oval shaped fruit having horn like spines on the skin is yellow/orange in color when ripe ,with a greenish flesh that has jelly like texture and tart taste. Kiwano is native to Africa but nowadays it is grown widely in countries like Chile, New Zealand, Australia and some parts of the United States as well. This fruit has been and continues to be a very important part of the African cuisine and culture since olden times.
Nutritional value of kiwano
The popularity of kiwano is attributed to its nutritional value and the numerous health benefits it provides. Kiwano is rich in vitamin C and minerals like potassium and iron. It also has moderate amounts of other minerals like calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and zinc. The pulp of this fruit contains vitamin A and beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A inside your body. The seeds of kiwano contain linoleic acid, which is an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid and oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid. Both are essential for maintaining the proper health of your body. Two types of antioxidants found in kiwano seeds are y-tocopherol and a-tocopherol, which offers several health benefits.
Health benefits of kiwano
Kiwano contains a plethora of nutrients that are extremely beneficial to your health. Some of the health benefits of kiwano are given below.
Kiwano is good for your eyes
The health of your eyes depends to a great extent on the food that you eat. Vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E are essential to improve your vision and to maintain healthy eyes. Kiwano is a good source of these vitamins and also beta-carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A inside your body.
Kiwano and digestive health
Kiwano is rich in magnesium, which is an important mineral needed for proper digestion. Magnesium stimulates the production of enzymes that help your body to absorb the nutrients from the food that you eat and use them effectively. Kiwano also contains moderate amounts of fiber that helps in normalizing your bowel movements and in preventing constipation.
Kiwano and weight loss
Kiwano is a low calorie fruit, almost 90% of which is composed of water. A 100 gram serving of this fruit gives out only 44 calories. Moreover, the fiber and water content in kiwano makes you feel fuller, thereby helping to control your appetite. These features make it a wonderful snack to be included in your weight loss diet.
Kiwano for diabetics
Kiwano is a healthy fruit with low calories and low glycemic index. It is a rich source of magnesium that helps in regulating the blood sugar levels. Hence kiwano is a good choice of food to be made part of a diabetic diet.
Kiwano lowers high blood pressure
Kiwano is a rich source of potassium, which is very effective in lowering high blood pressure. Potassium helps to lower blood pressure by balancing the amount of sodium in your blood. In addition to potassium, kiwano also contains oleic acid that has been found to have blood pressure lowering effects.
Kiwano and cholesterol
Kiwano contains oleic acid, which is very effective in lowering your total cholesterol and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. Including kiwano in your diet can therefore help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Kiwano and heart health
Antioxidants, vitamin E and beta-carotene are all associated with keeping your heart healthy and in preventing heart diseases. Kiwano is a good source of these nutrients and hence can be considered to be heart healthy. Moreover, the oleic acid in kiwano helps in lowering cholesterol and preventing conditions like heart attacks and strokes.
Kiwano and cancer
Free radicals are chemicals formed inside your body when a molecule or atom loses or gains an electron. They are extremely harmful to your body as they damage the important elements of cells such as membranes, DNA and proteins. Cell damage can lead to the development of diseases like cancer or other health problems. Kiwano is rich in vitamin E, beta-carotene and other antioxidants that neutralizes the effects of free radicals and protect your cells from damage.
Kiwano for strong bones
Calcium and magnesium are essential nutrients that help in maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Kiwano is an excellent source of these nutrients and so the regular consumption of this fruit not only helps in strengthening your bones but also in preventing conditions like osteoporosis.
Kiwano boosts your immune system
Kiwano contains beta-carotene and vitamin A that helps to strengthen your immune system and mucous membranes. Beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A inside your body, is also a powerful antioxidant that helps in boosting your immune system and protecting your body from the damaging effects of free radicals.
Selection and storage of kiwano
Kiwano is available all through the year in supermarkets and specialty markets. When you buy this fruit, make sure to select the ones that are bright orange in color and do not have spots or cuts or bruises. Also check for the horns and make sure that they are not damaged. It is better to avoid the fruits that do not have their horns intact, as it might be an indication of rough handling. There is no need to keep kiwano in the refrigerator. The fruits that are yet to ripen can be stored at normal room temperatures. They will keep without damage for as long as two weeks. Ripe kiwano kept at room temperature will last without damage for 3 to 4 days.
How to eat a kiwano
Due of the fact that kiwano is not a very familiar fruit to many people confusion exists as to how to eat it and what to make with it. First of all, make sure to buy a ripe kiwano that has bright orange colored skin. You can then cut the fruit open either horizontally or vertically. Once it is cut open, the inner jelly like flesh along with the seeds can be scooped out using a spoon and eaten. Another way to eat kiwano is to slice it vertically and eat the flesh out of each slice, just like you eat a cantaloupe.
Culinary uses of kiwano
Kiwano is a fruit that can be eaten while it’s still young, in the mature stage or when it is ripe. The flesh of this fruit has a slight sweet and tart taste. It can be used for making salads, desserts, juices, pickles etc. kiwano can be eaten raw or by sprinkling salt or sugar on it. It can be blended as such or with other fruits to make delicious and refreshing juices. People make jelly out of kiwano by first boiling it until it turns soft. It is then strained and the pulp is again boiled after adding a cup of water and a cup of sugar. Another way to enjoy this fruit is to cut it into cubes and pickling it by adding vinegar. The khoisan people of south Africa have been reported to roast the fruit and eat it after straining the flesh.
Other uses of kiwano
The leaves and roots of the kiwano plant are also edible. The skin of the kiwano fruits is rich in fiber and vitamin C, which makes it useful for many medicinal purposes. It has been considered that the root of the kiwano plant when boiled is an excellent cure for gonorrhea. Kiwano also contains saponins, which are chemical compounds or a type of oily glycosides that produce soap like foam when shaken strongly with water. Although saponins are often toxic in nature, they find many uses in medicine. They are used in making dietary supplements and also other chemical drugs. Recent studies have shown that saponins are beneficial in lowering blood pressure, lowering the cholesterol levels in your blood, improving your bone health, fighting cancer and also in boosting your immune system.
A decoction of the root of the kiwano plant has been found to be used by the shona tribe of the Okavango region during child birth to relieve pain. These tribal people also believe that by mixing fat with the pounded roots of the kiwano plant and then smearing the body with this mixture will help in preventing evil spirits or ghosts from entering their houses. When compared to cucumbers, the flesh of kiwano is very soft and jelly like and contains more amount of water. As such it forms an excellent source of water for human beings as well as animals living in areas with hot and arid climate. The tender and juicy kiwano fruit also forms a good source of food for birds and animals like primates, rodents and antelopes.
Since this fruit made its appearance only recently in other parts of the world, not many people are familiar with it. Despite its weird look, kiwano is an exotic fruit bursting with nutrients and health benefits. The peculiar appearance makes it ideal for decorative purposes.Image Credits: Wikimedia - Kaldari, Flickr - Aslak Raanes