African Cucumber

Cucumis metuliferus

Herbs gallery - African Cucumber

African cucumber (scientific name Cucumis metuliferus), is an annual vine that belongs to the cucumber and melon family, known as Cucurbitaceae. This plant is known by several names, including kiwano, the horned melon, jelly melon, African horned melon or cucumber, melano, and hedged gourd. This plant is found growing abundantly and naturally in the south-eastern region of the United States. The fruit of Cucumis metuliferus has spines similar to horns and, hence, it has been appropriately named "horned melon".

The skin of ripened Cucumis metuliferus is yellowish-orange, while its flesh is jelly-like and has a green hue. The ripe fruit has a tart flavour, while its texture is akin to that of cucumber. C. metuliferus has its origin in Sub-Saharan Africa, but currently it is cultivated in several countries, including United States (Mississippi, California), Australia, Chile and New Zealand.

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In its native habitat, Africa, African cucumber is a traditional food plant and has it can be used for several purposes, including enhancing nutrition and food security, promote rural development as well as maintain sustainable land use. Together with other plant species like Tsamma (botanical name Citron melon) and Gemsbok cucumber (scientific name Acanthosicyos naudinianus), African cucumber is among the few drinking water sources in the Kalahari Desert during the arid season. People in the northern regions of Zimbabwe call this plant gaka or gakachika. Primarily, they use the fruit of the plant in the form of a snack or desert and seldom for decoration purpose. The fruit of African cucumber can be consumed at any stage of its maturing, but the excessively ripened food will explode on its own to release the seeds forcefully.

The flavour of African cucumber fruit has been described as a blend of that of cucumber and zucchini. Some people claim that the fruit tastes like a combination of cucumber, banana and lemon. There are others who said that the fruit tastes akin to that of an immature and watered-down banana. The flavour of this fruit can be enhanced by adding some salt or sugar to it. Some people also consume the peel of African cucumber fruit, which is said to be loaded with vitamin C and dietary fiber. While consuming the fruit raw, people usually suck out its flesh and spew out the seeds, In addition, the fruit of African cucumber can also be consumed after cooking.

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Health benefits

The seeds of African cucumber contain a couple of antioxidants that have been identified as tocopherol and y-tocopherol. Both these antioxidants are an organic variety of vitamin E, which offer numerous health benefits, including a healthy skin,  heart, strong muscles, healthy nerves as well as red blood cells (erythrocytes). At the same time, vitamin E also helps to neutralize the detrimental free radicals that are responsible for inducing long-term ailments and diseases like heart disorder and even cancer. Moreover, there are plenty of evidences that show vitamin E can help in reducing the risks of developing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

The seeds as well as the pulp of the African cucumber have a yellowish-green pigment, which is basically a carotenoid, beta carotene, which is commonly known as vitamin A. Beta carotene is effective in reinforcing the defence mechanism of the body. At the same time, it helps to support the health of our eyes and skin. Beta carotene may also aid in preventing specific forms of cancer, by restraining the growth of free radicals. Taking a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits containing carotenoids, similar to beta carotene, lutein and lycopene may also aid in mending and protecting the DNA, thereby retarding the ageing process and eliminating the symptoms related to ageing.

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African cucumber comprises 307 IU (international unit) of vitamin A or almost 6 percent of the 5,000 IU or the daily recommended amount of this nutrient. Vitamin A is among the vital nutrients that assist the functioning of the retina within the eyes, thereby retaining good eyesight. In addition, vitamin A also enhances the mucosal lining strength. The mucosal lining forms the first line of defence against all types of infections inside the nasal passage, throat as well as the intestinal tract.

Apart from being loaded with vitamin A, consuming African cucumber also supplies our body with 1 mg zinc, which is about 7 percent of the 15 mg of this essential mineral required by our body daily. The Ohio State University states that on average, nearly all Americans generally do not intake the basic minimum daily requirement of zinc. In fact, incorporating zinc sources into our diet is very important as this essential mineral has a vital role in developing proteins that heal wound and also make the blood cells. Aside the above mentioned health benefits offered by zinc, this mineral also has a vital role pertaining to insulin discharge from the pancreas. As most of us are aware, insulin is necessary for the normal metabolism of ingested carbohydrates.

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An African cucumber or horned melon also offers about 11 mg of vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen production in our body. Collagen is a part of the skin tissue that is used for producing as well as mending epidermal layer as well as the organ tissues. At the same time, vitamin C also protects the cells from harms and damages caused by the free radicals as well as detrimental toxins and the unwanted derivatives of metabolism. Accumulation of all such harmful substances within the body may result in the growth as well as development of various diseases and also cause premature aging.

Selection, storage and how to eat

As discussed above, the rind of the ripened African cucumber or horned melon has a vivid orange color. They can be stored in normal room temperature. You don't require storing these fruits in refrigerators to avoid being discoloured or developing soft spots. Apart from the fruit, even the seeds of it are delectable. You can even use the shells of African cucumber as unique serving bowls for sorbets, soups and even desserts.

Interestingly enough attracted by the looks of the African cucumber, many people purchase the fruit, but find it baffling to consume it. In fact, there is not specific method of eating this fruit. The most delectable part of African cucumber is certainly its jelly-like flesh. In order to consume the ripened fruit, you only need to cut it into two halves, either vertically or horizontally, and scoop out the gelatinous flesh. You may consume this internal flesh by adding some sugar or salt to the African cucumber with a view to enhance the fruit's flavour. Alternatively, you can also consume the ripened African cucumber by first cutting it into halves vertically and then cutting it into smaller elongated strips. You can consume these strips in the same manner as you would consume watermelon or cantaloupe strips. While some people consume the seeds along with the flesh, many others spit the seed out and only swallow the gelatinous flesh.

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The fruit of African cucumber can be consumed in several different ways. You can scoop out the jelly-like flesh of this fruit, blend it with ice cream or yogurt and eat it. The seeds of this fruit are akin to those of cucumber and are edible. However, most people usually discard the seeds and only consume the flesh of ripened African cucumber fruit. However, eliminating the seeds from the jelly-like flesh can often be a challenging task. Generally, most people suck out the ripened flesh of African cucumber and spit out the seeds. People who are keen to know the various other ways in which this fruit can be consumed can search for various recipes with horned melon. When you purchase a horned melon, it is advisable that you opt for the fruits with orange rind and are firm.

It is best to choose a horned melon or African cucumber that is fully ripe. You will find that a properly ripened fruit will have an orange rind with spikes similar to horns. In case you are unable to obtain a fully ripened horned melon in the market, wait for rind of the one you get to become orange prior to eating it.

Here are a few tips regarding how you can eat the ripened African cucumber. To begin with, cut the ripened fruit into two halves and keep one aside. Hold the other half of the fruit in your mouth and press it from the bottom end gradually. When you do this, you will find tiny, partially slippery sacs of the fruit, each of them enclosing one cucumber-like seed.

You may either beat or also suck up at least one sac of the fruit along with its seed each time. Suck or chew the fruit's slimy sack and swallow it after savouring its delectable flavour.

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