African horned cucumber, horned melon or jelly melon (English), 非洲角黃瓜 (fēi zhōu jiǎo huáng guā,Mandarin), gaka or gakachika (Southern Africa)
Kiwano is an African fruit with horn-like spines and a refreshing jelly-like flesh. It has been an important source of nutrition for desert-dwelling people in the southern region of Africa for thousands of years. The unique looking fruit has debuted in several American science fiction films, and the drought-hardy fruiting vine is gaining popularity among Florida gardeners because it produces abundantly in hot and dry weather.
Kiwano is native throughout the southern region of Africa, and it has been consumed by indigenous people living in the areas of Angola, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique since prehistory. Commercial and ornamental cultivation began in New Zealand and Australia In the 1930s, and it was only recently introduced in the United States as a specialty crop. Kiwano is primarily grown in California and Washington states as a fruit, and is often used as a rootstock for other melons because of its tolerance to certain fungi and pests. It is beginning to receive recognition in Florida because the vining plant thrives in hot weather, produces abundant fruit throughout the summer heat, and it has a high resistance to pests and fungi.
Kiwano has been a significant source of nutrition and hydration for the Khoisan people who live in the Kalahari desert since prehistoric times. The flesh of the fruit is 80% water, and it is one of the few sources of hydration during the summer in the Kalahari desert. The leaves from the vine and the skin of the fruit is also roasted as a snack. More recently, boutique cafes in urban cities in the southern region of Africa place slices of the fruit atop salads and pickle unripe fruit. The fruits grown in California and Washington are marketed as “Cuke-asaurus” (Lollar). Contemporary American recipes featuring the kiwano include ceviche, smoothies and cocktails, sorbets, and salsas. Because of their unique color and horned appearance, kiwano melons were featured as alien fruits with special powers in a Star Trek TV series and in a fruit bowl with Han Solo in the Star Wars bar scene.
Kiwano is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. It also contains a small amount of protein, vitamin C, beta carotene, and vitamin A (USDA).
Plant kiwano March through May by planting seed directly or by transplant. Keep in mind that they are frost sensitive and vining. Harvest melons August through October.
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