Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Kiwano: The Horned Melon Experiment

otherwise titled What to do When You're One of the Few People Not Celebrating Christmas) ;-)

At the store yesterday, I noticed something in the produce section. It was a curious-looking fruit I've noticed in a seed catalog before, one of the items I circled because of my strange attraction to unusual things (ha! what does this say about my friends and husband?? heh heh). Or maybe I saw it nestled between the pomellos and the starfruit and decided to root for the underdog.

Nah, I got it because of my strange attraction to unusual things... I won't explore that subject in this post, though...

This will attest to my subtle programming by my Ultimate Very Favorite Way Coolest Seed Catalogue of Greatest Esteem, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Nevermind the depictions of its founder in campy Roy Rogers get-up, Jere Gettle is one incredible heirloom seed sort of guy. This catalogue is bursting with lists and descriptions of seed varieties, many of them rare or lesser-known in this neck of the woods. The pictures and sheer selection are addictive. You've been warned!

Anyway, here is what made it home with us yesterday...

Cute little fellow, eh? It's a remarkably beautiful fruit...or melon, depending on which name for it you adopt. In the store it was labeled Horned Melon, and in the Baker Creek Heirloom catalogue (happy sigh), it's called Jelly Melon, Kiwano, or African Horned Cucumber.

Hello, beautiful!

Here is a close-up. What color! Looks good enough to eat...maybe

The color up close is that of a flame orange-red cucumber with yellow splashes, about the size of a lemon, and yes, those are spines. A cucumber with a cactus complex? You can hold it in your hand gently, and the spines don't hurt, but to grab it roughly would cause you to release a tighter grip.

It is described in the catalogue as a

"very unusual fruit with spiny 'horns.' The green-yellow skin turns a bright
deep orange when ready to harvest, and the pulp inside fruit resembles lime
green Jell-O. The fruit has a sweet-sour, banana-lime-tropical fruit taste; good
juiced and sweetened. This fruit is showing up quite often in US markets. Native
to Africa, it is hardy and easy to grow about anywhere you can grow melons.
Beautiful vine and fruit! Tiny seed."
Since it's a full sun plant, and Florida seems to get a lot of that much of the year, I really wanted to give this a try to see if we liked it. And so naturally, it called for an experiment. I mean a guinea pig. I mean a husband! When I brought this fruit home yesterday, J wrinkled up his nose and said he'd tried on of these before, and its taste "wasn't much." I asked him if he'd tried it sweetened like the catalog suggested, and he said he hadn't.

So let the experiment commence! (arrange hair straight up like a mad scientist "Zees ees our feerst subject. --raising knife -- You can see eet ees putting up very leetle reseestance...")

First, we slice the melon...er, cucumber...mystery Lime Green Jell-O fruit...or whatever...

It slices easily, about like a thick-skinned cucumber would. I'm looking for jiggly Jell-O. Instead, I see seeds and pulp. The pulp is a shade lighter than lime green. We're still on track...

See that little dribble of juice on the plate, from the cutting? It does have a slightly thick, clear, consistency, like gelatin that's unfinished firming up. It's not slimy, though. I dipped my finger in it for an initial taste. It tasted mildly of lemon, only not as astringent and with a bit of a fruitier flavor. But mostly like a mild lemon.

A closer look reveals each seed encased in this clear green fruit capsule, very juicy. Any firmer and it would have reminded me more of a pomegranate seed. But these were juicy, slippery, and non-slimy. Pardon the picture quality. These are all indoor pictures and I don't know the right setting yet for the fancy camera I have. It's not the camera's fault...I'm just not worthy. Yet

It's time to juice the fruit. It requires only the most expensive, advanced, high-tech juicer. Here it is partially juiced. The skin is pliable, like the skin of a lemon, when juicing, and the pulp comes out very easily. There are a lot of seeds. They appear soft, too, rather than hard and woody. We'll see..

We'll try this sweetened three ways. The first way, with granulated sugar. Otherwise known to many health-conscious folks as The Devil Itself. But nevertheless a substance that still survives in our own cupboard today. We only do this in the interest of a good cause, a service to humanity. We must see if this is actually edible, or if its use lies only in its beauty and novelty. We'll do our duty. It's a sacrifice, but public servants we are... ;-)

The reason we're testing it with just plain sugar is to test its use as a possible sweetened juice to be used alone or with other juices.

OK, next up, some yogurt.

This is pre-sweetened vanilla yogurt. The store-bought kind. Hey, it's what was in the fridge. I haven't learned to make my own. Yet. Anyway, the point here is to test for its yum potential in smoothies made with yogurt.

Next up, in orange juice.

I know I know, I have further disgraced the name of Canon. I often enjoy drinking a blurry morning glass of OJ, so it was worth being included in the test.

Here is the freshly-juiced melon half, which is a bit bigger than a large lemon half.

Here is the juice we'll add to the bowls of sugar, yogurt, and orange juice. It really looks a bit like lime Jello-O. Not sure to test this with or without seeds, but as the seeds cling to the pulp and there are so many of them, we'll try it with the seeds for now.

Looks yummy! And in it goes...
First, into the bowl with a little sugar.

In the second bowl, the seeds/juice are combined with sweetened vanilla yogurt.

And lastly, some juice with seeds stirred into some orange juice.

How fun! Alright, hubby was summoned to the table for the taste test. After all, he'll be the one eating most of these fruits if we decide to grow them. He's definately the fruit lover around here!

The suspense built, a spoon was weilded and a rating scale of 0 to 5 was employed...0 being "Intolerable" and 5 being "The Nectar of Heaven." Here are the results:

(Drum rollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll)

1. The juiced pulp with sugar added: Score = 4 points Very Good
Flavor: Smooth and pleasant, with no aftertaste. Mildly tropical and tasting of very mild sweet banana. He like this one. We'd likely try it both with and without seeds as a drink as such.

2. The juiced pulp mixed with sweetened vanilla yogurt: Score = 5 points J ate the whole thing
and said it was an excellent combination. He described the flavor as entirely different than the juice he had tried by itself...when combined with sweetened vanilla yogurt, it had a distinctly mild tropical lime flavor, very smooth and non-acidic, with no aftertaste. I think it tastes borderline kiwi. It would be excellent as a smoothie this way. Very mild and sweet and delicious! He found the seeds to be cucumber-like in size and with a firm shell not quite as hard as a mature cucumber's. He drank it down as is, and wondered aloud if this might be an extra benefit as fiber. At which point I mentioned to him that the seeds are highly toxic and poisonous. At which point he looked at me and burst out laughing. Yeah well, ok so they're not. Just keeping the man's attention.

3. The juiced pulp added to orange juice: Score = 0 points. Ugh. Not so good. Jiggly pulp and seeds floating in orange juice with no taste benefit and muddying the flavor considerably. Looks like something you'd concoct that takes awful but is "good for you." Worse tasting than barley green and better tasting than castor oil. Nuff said.

Final Results: #2 wins hands down...and the fruit is a keeper. We'll try some sort of filtering of the seed from the juice, possibly slightly heating it and using a strainer. Or we'll use it with the seeds included, more for ease and health.

Any combination of this with other fruit juices would have to be experimented with. It is pretty cool in that it changes flavor according to what it's with, at least as we tried it. It would be fun to play around with!

Just for kicks, I got out my stick blender and blended the yogurt/juice combination till the seeds were just teensy little flecks. Ground up like that they come out in texture about like strawberry seeds you eat along with the strawberry when eating those fresh. I've not used psyllium seed that much, but it might be along the lines of that in texture. In the yogurt mix itself, after being blended, it went down very smoothly and not super gritty. Texture, yes, but more liquid than bulk and a VERY enjoyable taste. This might be a GREAT fiber source, so delicious that no one thinks of it as a fiber fix as much as a terrific treat.

Update: Since posting this, I found one mention online of the seeds potentially being toxic to mammals. I can find no hard data to support this, and the fruits themselves are found in the melon section of the produce department in my store. Hmmm. Well, till this is cleared up, I may try to strain the pulp through a strainer/colander. I also found folks who tried and hated this fruit, describing it as slimy and horrid. It seems that before fully ripening, it can be sliced and used as garnish and cooking amendment with meats and such, and that if left to be overripe, it tastes like overripe tomatoes. Well, that would put anyone off. However, I instantly like the SWEETENED fruit. Without a bit of sweetener, it is unremarkable in flavor. Many of the fruits we use, however, are ones we're used to. I think we'd hate lemons if we didn't have a clue how to use them. Or limes. Etc. Anyway I am posting this CAUTION: Don't eat the seeds simply because we tried them. Do your own research to determine edibility and safety. For now, we'll research this claim of toxicity (I'm not sure if it's just someone's opinion of if it's based in fact...I saw no data or sources cited) before utilizing the seeds. But we WILL use the juice :)

The scooped-out fruit shells are also used by people as unique presentation containers for scoops of ice cream and other foods, for fun. So let's play with our food :)

It's a keeper!


Anonymous said...

Aba told me they eat them with ice cream in Jamaica.MommyMommyLand

Robbyn said...

Neat! Sounds delicious :) Do they strain out the seeds first, I wonder?

Stephanie said...

Very interesting. I've never seen those before.

You should submit this to Make It From Scratch this week! ;)

Robbyn said...

Great idea, Stephanie! If I can figure out how to, I will!

arlene said...

when we were in the Philippines, we called them "jack fruit".
I found your blog through Life In the shoe. I am sure I will be visiting more in the future.

Robbyn said...

Welcome, Arlene! I'm very interested in fruits we don't usually see marketed here in the US stores but that may thrive in the hotter zone gardens.