Pepino (botanical name Solanum muricatum) is a fruit-bearing evergreen shrub having its origin in South America. This plant is cultivated for its sweet, delectable fruits. Like lucuma, even pepino fruit is native to the Andean region of Chile and Peru. This fruit is loaded with vitamin C, in addition to containing simple sugars, several essential minerals (for example potassium). Aside from offering numerous health benefits, pepino fruit has an extremely fresh flavour - it is neither very sweet, nor very sour. The shape of this fruit is similar to that of a cucumber and its skin has the texture akin to that of an eggplant. On the other hand, the flesh of pepino fruit is soft and encloses elevated amounts of water.
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Pepino is also referred to as pepino dulce or just pepino. In English, this fruit is also called "sweet cucumber" with a view to distinguish it from cucumber. In fact, the Spanish call the cucumber "pepino". The term pepino is also used to denote other similar species like Solanum mucronatum, which apparently is a member of the related genus Lycianthes.
In terms of its color, the pepino fruit bears resemblance to a melon (botanical name Cucumis melo), while its flavour reminds one of a juicy blend of cucumber and honeydew. As a result, occasionally, pepino is also referred to as pepino melon or even melon pear. However, the fact is that pepinos are very distant relatives of pears and melons. Another common name of pepino is "tree melon" - a term which is more frequently used to describe papaya (botanical name Carica papaya). Incidentally, the pepino plant bears no resemblance to any tree. On the contrary, it is a trailing herb whose appearance is more akin to that of a ground cover. Nevertheless, the present species - Solanum muricatum, is closely related to various nightshades that are grown for their edible fruit, counting the eggplant (botanical name S. melongena) and tomato (S. lycopersicum).
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Pepino is a very common fruit in the markets in Chile, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador. However, it is not readily available in the markets abroad, because the fruit is very sensitive and requires very careful handling. Moreover, pepino fruits cannot withstand transportation well. Several attempts have been made to grow the pepino cultivars commercially as well as export the fruit in countries like Chile, New Zealand, Mauritius and Turkey.
It is believed that the pepino fruit is beneficial for people enduring high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, kidney stones and even cancer. Consuming pepino on a regular basis will help to provide the best possible results to put off the development of these health conditions. In addition, pepino fruit is also known to be effective in augmenting stamina.
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All the health benefits offered by pepino are attributed to the several different phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and natural dietary fiber enclosed by the fruit. Precisely speaking, phytochemicals are plant compounds that impart aroma, flavor or color that are characteristic to a particular plant. Some of the therapeutic properties of phytochemicals include antioxidant, antimicrobial, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and anticancer. In addition, several phytochemical compounds help to perk up the immune system, lower the levels of blood cholesterol and sugar, and keep the blood pressure in check.
Pepino encloses an assortment of beneficial nutrients that have positive effects on our health, particularly different vitamins and essential minerals. Pepino contains several vital minerals, including iron, calcium, copper, phosphorus, zinc and manganese. A number of these minerals like copper, manganese and zinc are also known to possess antioxidant attribute.
At the same time, pepino fruit is loaded with vitamin C as well as vitamin B complex. Vitamin C present in pepino is effective in preventing thrush, while maintaining healthy gums. Similar to vitamin E, even vitamin C is a natural antioxidant and is effective in neutralizing the harmful free radicals, which are responsible for premature aging as well as development of some cancer forms. In addition, vitamin C is also required by our body to augment its immune system so we do not become vulnerable to diseases. At the same time, vitamin C makes the immune system competent enough to deal with various ailments and health disorders.
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Vitamin C also offers several other health benefits. This nutrient is excellent for the health and beauty care of the skin. It keeps the skin smooth and youthful, thereby putting off the signs of premature aging, such as appearance of wrinkles and fine lines on the face. Moreover, vitamin C also serves as a natural antioxidant, thereby neutralizing all free radicals entering our body via baked and fried foods consumed by us. Free radicals are extremely hazardous for our health, as they have the potential to block the blood vessels that may result in heart attack and stroke. What is worse, free radicals are also responsible for various types of cancers.
One of the best things about pepino melons is that they contain fewer calories and, therefore, are useful for anyone trying to lose some extra pounds. The entire calorie content of pepino is from the fruit's carbohydrate content. During the digestive process, carbohydrates present in pepino are metabolized into glucose and, hence, it can be effectively used by our body as an ideal fuel source.
Aside from the vitamins, minerals and carbohydrate, pepino is also a wonderful natural dietary fiber resource. Precisely speaking, dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate, which is not digested by our body. Therefore, the dietary fiber in pepino melons works to slow down the digestive process, thereby reducing the frequent craving for food. At the same time, it adds bulk to one's stool, making it softer as well as easier to have a healthy bowel movement. It has been established that consuming foods rich in dietary fiber not only helps to put off the chances of developing heart diseases, but also prevents occurrence of diabetes.
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Pepino melon is also absolutely sodium-free. When you decrease sodium intake on a regular basis, it helps to bring down high blood pressure (hypertension), thereby diminishing the chances of developing ailments related to high blood pressure, for instance diseases related to the heart as well as kidneys.
The pepino is a trailing plant that is reasonably resilient. In its native habitat, pepino plants are found growing at elevations varying from just about the sea level to an altitude of 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). Nevertheless, this herb puts forth its best performance when grown in warm and somewhat frost-free climatic conditions. Pepino plants have the aptitude to survive even in low temperatures - as low as 27°F to 28°F (2.5°C) provided the freezing period is not prolonged. However, the plants may shed a few leaves in such conditions. Pepino is a perennially growing species, but the plant is sensitive to pests, diseases and chilling, which compel the cultivators to replant them once a year. In addition, pepino also adjusts well to the conditions in a greenhouse. The plants can be trained to grow up to a height of 2 meters to obtain fruits that are about twice or three times larger compared to those obtained when grown outdoors.
Pepino plants are propagated from their cuttings, as they become easily established even without using rooting hormones. These plants are grown in the same way as their other relatives like tomato are cultivated. However, pepino plants have a tendency to grow straight and, hence, they can be grown in the form of a free standing bush. Nevertheless, occasionally the plants are pruned and grown on trellises. In addition, sometimes the plants are also provided with support with a view to prevent them from falling down owing to the weight of their fruits. Pepino plants grow very rapidly and start producing fruits within just four to six months from the date of their planting. As discussed earlier, although pepino is a perennial species, it is grown as an annual crop, as the plants are sensitive to pests, diseases and chills. Pepino seedlings loathe weeds, but they do possess the competence to compete with weeds that have low growth. Similar to its other relatives, such as tomatoes, tamarillos, tomatillos, and eggplants, pepinos are also very attractive to aphids, beetles, spider mites and white flies. Pepinos can tolerate nearly all types of soils, but they need unvarying moisture for a good yield of fruits.
Once the pepino bushes become established, they exhibit reasonable ability to endure drought stress. However, this certainly affects the yields of the plants. Pepinos are considered to be parthenocarpic. In other words, these plants do not require pollination to bear fruits. However, pollination will certainly promote fruiting. The pepino plants thrive best when grown in fertile (but not very fertile) soils having free drainage and a neutral soil pH varying between 6.5 and 7.5. On the other hand, compared to tomatoes, pepino plants are not so tolerant of salinity. Providing pepinos with mulching will go a long way in doing away with the weed menace.
Usually, pepinos are propagated vegetatively from their cuttings. Alternatively, you may also propagate them from seeds. For vegetative propagation, make stem cuttings each measuring anything between 3 inches and 5 inches, leaving about four to five leaves at their upper end. While the cuttings usually develop roots even without rooting hormones, treating the cuttings with rooting hormones certainly helps to enhance consistency in rooting as well as growth of a heavier root system. Subsequently, the cuttings are positioned in a medium that drains freely and quickly. The cuttings are set under mist or in such an environment that protects them from losing too much water. At the same time, providing bottom heat also proves to be useful and facilitates the rooting process.
Provided the conditions are favourable, majority of the cuttings root quickly and become ready for being planted in separate containers. The rooted pepino cuttings are placed outdoors after the last date of expected frost has passed. This is usually done during the period between February and April when the plants have grown sufficiently large to start producing flowers soon after being planted outdoors. This allows that plants adequate time to produce fruits, which grow as well as mature during the hot summer. While planting the rooted cutting outdoors, ensure that they are planted about 2 feet to 3 feet away from each other with a view to give ample space for the bushes to develop.
In order to ensure that the fruits have their utmost flavor and sugar content, you should only pick the individual pepino (Solanum muricatum) fruits when they are completely ripe. Fruits of dissimilar pepino cultivars differ. Nevertheless, the basic color of the mature pepino fruits of nearly all cultivars varies from slightly yellow to pale orange.
It is important to handle ripened pepino fruits carefully because they bruise easily. Mature pepino fruits will remain viable for three to four weeks when stored at about 38°F in conditions where the relative humidity is high. Fruits that are meant to be despatched to far away markets should be picked ahead of them becoming completely ripe. In fact, this is the appropriate time to pick pepino fruits that need to be transported to distant markets. Several studies have shown that fruits picked when they are about to become mature remain most viable in cold storage. On the other hand, fruits that are excessively ripened endure physiological problems like discoloration, internal decomposition and even dehydration. If the fruits are picked very prematurely, they may not become completely ripe and also lack in flavor and sweetness. Generally, pepino fruits are chilled and consumed fresh - in the same manner as you eat cantaloupe or any other melon.