Kiwano or thorn melon is a tropical berry that has been native to the Central and Southern Africa regions for over 3000 years. From time immemorial, people in the Kalahari desert have been eating the succulent jelly to quench thirst in the hot season. It is now cultivated worldwide, particularly in New Zealand, Kenya, Australia and China.
Its most fascinating feature is a bumpy, spiny skin, hence the name horned melon. Bright orange on the skin when ripe, Kiwano is succulent inside with flat seeds exquisitely housed in the jelly-like lime-green flesh.
Horn melon is basically a vine plant that reaches between 5 and 10 feet in climbing length. The vines have unfurling tendrils. The plant has shapely, small leaves with beautifully cut five lobes that look like those of the watermelon plant. The fruits are medium sized, measuring between 5.8 cm (2 inches) and 10.16 cm (4 inches) long. Before they ripen, kiwano fruits have a light green skin shade.
The scientific name for Kiwano is Cucumis metuliferus, which belongs to the family of cucumbers, Cucurbitaceae. Perhaps this is why its other popular nicknames are horned cucumber and horned melon. Depending on where it grows in its native Africa, Kiwano has distinct local names. In South Africa it is commonly known as rooi-agurkie in Afrikaans while in Botswana it is mokopana in Tswana. In Zimbabwe the name is magaka.
Kiwano now grows in various parts of the world outside Africa through naturalization. In fact, the word Kiwano is a Maori word from New Zealand that describes its close resemblance to kiwifruit. It has the same lime green flesh, flat seeds and jelly texture of the kiwi.
Prinut Inc., which imports the fruit from New Zealand has also registered the trademark name, ‘Kiwano.’
Kiwano taste and uses
Kiwano is a delicious berry. A bite into its jelly exudes a sour citrus flavor that has distant hints of a kiwi’s sweetness. However, the sweet variety that most people go for has a mildly sweet taste. Why, you may find a banana aroma in overripe Kiwanos!
The following uses of Kiwano reflect its nutritious profile of vitamin C, antioxidants and magnesium, all of which play anti-inflammatory roles in the body:
- Fruit topping for ice cream-based sundae. It adds a citrus-like flavor and nutrition to the dish.
- Flavoring yogurt. Topping strained milk with the jelly of Kiwano ameliorates the taste and adds on the great nutrition of yogurt.
Research shows that daily intake of Linoleic acid from the seeds has the potential to reduce the onset of heart disease.
Kiwano in the market
Kiwano is a high-yield crop, especially when grown in exotic locales. One unconfirmed report from New Zealand shows a potential for 2 million pounds per 50 acres.
Though first grown outside Africa in New Zealand as early as 1982 with a focus on exports to Japan, Kiwano has broken the international market proper only in the 2000s. One of the reasons it became an international commercial crop as late as 2008 is its striking looks. Some buy it for its strange beauty while others for its unique appearance.
In terms of seasons, Kiwano is a year-round crop. It is available in both Eastern and Western Hemispheres. New Zealand and California lead in yields. The high season for the fruit is spring through summer (March to August) in California. New Zealand starts harvests as early as late winter (early February). Zimbabwe has its peak season in April to August and South Africa in September.
In the United States, one Kiwano melon fetches between $5 and $7 while in the UK, the price range in 2023 has been 3 to 5 Sterling Pounds. Zimbabwe is one of the countries that is exporting kiwano fruit into the US market.