Cucamelon (scientific name Melothria scabra) is basically a vine that is cultivated for its fruit that is suitable for eating. The size of cucamelon fruits is similar to that of grapes, while its taste is like that of cucumbers, but with a slight sourness.
Melothria scabra is indigenous to Mexico as well as Central America. In these places, the plant is known as sandiita or "little watermelon". This plant was possibly domesticated much before people from Europe started settlements and colonized Central America.
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Cucamelon is a sluggishly-growing plant as they take some time to establish themselves. However, sooner or later these plants have the ability to grow up to ten feet provided they are grown in proper conditions. Compared to other cucumbers, these plants are able to resist drought as well as pests better. On the other hand, like cucumbers, these vines are monoecious (meaning that the male and female flowers are produced on the same plant). Melothria scabra plants are self-pollinating. However, the flowers of this plant are not self-fertile individually. The flowers of cucamelon are small and have a yellow hue. These flowers measure about 4 mm across. The fruits of cucamelon appear at the female flowers' base.
Incidentally, the fruits of Melothria scabra actually resemble watermelons - but they are tiny. The vines are very delicate, and the leaves of this plant tiny, reminding one of miniature gardens. People who are yet to see this plant would be pleasantly surprise to notice the fruits when they develop first. These fruits grow up to a grape's size - measuring about 3 cm (1.25 inches) in length and 3 cm across (0.8 inch). The flavour of these fruits would remind one of cucumbers. However, different from cucumbers, they have a lemony tinge. While the outer skin of the fruits is thin and firm, inside the fruits are very succulent. From the seedling stage, Melothria scabra vines have a sluggish growth. However, having established themselves, their growth accelerates fast and they can grow to a length of about 10 feet.
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The name of the fruit implies that these fruits are a cross between melon and cucumber - but only a miniature version. However, cucamelons are altogether different from both melons and cucumbers as the latter can cross-pollinate.
From the botanical point of view, cucamelons are different from both cucumbers as well as melons. Moreover, the flowers of these plants do not cross-pollinate. Although this plant belongs to the cucumber family, it is an altogether different species (Melothria scabra).
The flavor of cucamelons is like having a fresh, crunchy cucumber that has been added with a tinge of lime. The gentle citrus flavor of cucamelons make these tiny fruits more refreshing during the summers. From their outward appearance one may think that the flesh inside would be reddish. On the contrary, inside they are similar to cucumbers having minute seeds and the flesh too is like cucumber.
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Cucamelons have many uses and consuming them has several health benefits. These tiny fruits contain very few calories and fat. In addition, they are a natural source of dietary fiber, simple sugars and vitamins. All these substances are necessary for our optimal health.
This fruit has a refreshing sharp flavor and is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, macro nutrients and essential minerals. Hence, consuming this fruit is beneficial for your health. Cucamelons help to revitalize the cells, tissues as well as the different organs, thereby inhibiting the aging process. At the same time, this fruit helps to promote the cardiac functions and also prevent development of cancer.
As a group food, it is usually thought to be a healthy option owing to the fruits low calories content and rich amounts of dietary fiber and essential minerals. Like other cucumbers, cucamelon also possess these properties. In fact, this fruit is a natural source of many useful vitamins, minerals and also antioxidants - lycopene and beta-carotene.
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Lycopene: This phytochemical is a useful antioxidant that helps to promote the functioning of the heart.
Beta-carotene: This is another antioxidant that helps to maintain youthful skin and, at the same time, promotes the functioning of the heart. In addition, beta-carotene is also beneficial for our eyes.
If you eat a healthy diet that comprises fruits it may help you to lower the chances of developing heart diseases - such as stroke and heart attack. At the same time, a diet rich in fruits also helps in preventing development of specific types of cancers. Hence, incorporating cucamelon in your diet may provide you with the above mentioned health benefits.
Cucamelons are used in culinary too. These tiny fruits can be used to hold up some preparations that cook too quick. You can add them to stir-fries, especially in the final stage of the cooking, to make the stir-fries a pleasantly crunchy. Having said this, cucamelons can also be consumed fresh.
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As cucamelons are a close relative of cucumbers, these fruits can be used to prepare homemade pickles. You can use the fruits to make a regular dill pickle and can it. Alternatively, they can also be used for making a quick refrigerator pickle. In addition, cucamelons can also be used as a substitute for pickling cukes.
Cucamelon plants are generally propagated from their seeds, which should be ideally sown indoors at least four weeks before the last frost in your area. Preferably you should sow two to three seeds about half an inch deep in 21/4 Jiffy strips. For best germination, you should provide the seeds with warm soil temperature (anything between 24 degrees C and 27 degrees C), while the moisture should be even. The seeds need some time to germinate. Some seeds may take as long as three to four weeks to germinate. Usually, cucamelon seedlings have a very slow growth as they require enough time to establish themselves. However, once the plants have established themselves in the soil, their growth is very rapid and the plants can reach a length of 10 feet.
The young plants should be transplanted outdoors once the risks of frost are over. Plant them 6 inches apart and there needs to be four feet to six feet space between the rows. Cucamelon plants need a sunny and warm growing season for about three months. It is highly recommended that you use black mulch or row covers to extend the growing season. This will also ensure proper maturity of the vines and increase their fruit production.
These plants should be grown in locations receiving full sunlight and where the soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.0. Since cucamelon plants are profuse feeders, it would be excellent to apply well-rotted manure or compost on a regular basis in the planting area. In addition, applying fertilizers that are completely soluble during the growing season will prove to be highly beneficial. You need to adopt caution to ensure that the plants do not wilt. At the same time, ensure that you water the planting area properly before you transplanting cucamelons outdoors.
Once the last frost in your area has passed you can harden off cucamelon plants outdoors. When they are used to getting sun as well as the outdoors air, the young seedlings can be transplanted in their permanent places outdoors. However, ensure that the soil in the garden has a good drainage.
The seedlings of cucamelon may well be small and the vines may be long and thin, but they will start growing robustly when the environment becomes hotter during mid-summer.
Make certain that you plant the young cucamelon seedlings at a distance of 12 inches from one another and provide them with tall trellis so that they can climb easily. The trellis serves many purposes. Apart from ensuring that the plants receive enough sunlight throughout, they also help to maintain a warm soil temperature. In addition, they make it easier to pick the fruits when they are ripe.
Cucamelon plants can grow even more than 10 feet long in places where the summers are long. Therefore, it is essential to provide the plants with sufficient vertical space.
Melothria scabra, also called cucamelons, are rich in several essential nutrients. These tiny fruits contain good amounts of lycopenes (an antioxidant that is beneficial for the health of the heart) beta-carotene (an antioxidant that is beneficial for the health of eyes and also keeps the skin youthful), several vital minerals, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and dietary fiber.
When the cucamelons attain the size of grapes, they are deemed to be fit for harvest. Once the fruits are being harvested, one will find that the ripe cucamelons have a deeper color and broader shoulders. On the other hand, unripe cucamelons are not only narrow, but also short. If you are not sure when to harvest the fruits, you can try experimenting by harvesting the cucamelons in different stages. This will help you do decided which is the right stage to harvest the cucamelon fruit and also which stage of the fruit you would prefer to eat.
Ensure that you harvest the fruits quite often, because this will promote production of more cucamelon fruits.