Okay, so this isn’t from the farmer’s market, it’s from the grocery store, but I mean, just LOOK at the thing:
How do you NOT wonder what the heck it is? Yeah, yeah, read the sign. Thank you. The grocery store claims that it’s called a Kiwano Melon or Horned Melon (one store said “Horny Melon.” Ha! Yes, I’m a twelve-year old boy at heart.) The Internet claims that it’s one of the few sources of thirst-quenching liquid in the Kalahari Desert. Seeing as I am not in the Kalahari Desert, I just haven’t gotten off my duff to go to Trader Joe’s and buy some water lately, I was dubious, yet hopeful. Trying foods you’ve never seen before is an optimistic endeavor – I keep hoping to find something a-MA-zing like Uglifruit, or better yet, crème brûlée I can grow on a vine. (What’s uglifruit you ask? It’s a seriously ugly fruit that I used to see at Whole Foods in Chicago in January. They only grow it in Jamaica, I think, and for the life of me I can’t find one in Los Angeles. I’ve been looking every winter for over ten years. It’s like a peach decided to dress up like an orange on the inside and a troll on the outside. It’s awesome. If I can find one, it’ll be a post topic one of these days.)
So would the kiwano melon turn out to be my new extravagant long-sought love? Alas, no. But first, what to do with it. A ripe kiwano is oblong-shaped and bright yellowish-orange with spikes all around. Cut it open either horizontally or lengthwise and you’ll find this:
Green, seed-filled goo. I’m really selling this, aren’t I? But it is what it is. The interior is filled with little gelatinous sacks that each contains a seed. For a little botany in your life, I expect the purpose is to protect each seed from drying out so there’s a chance a few can survive even the Kalahari sun. Evolutionarily, it’s ingenious. Practically, it’s a pain in the ass. You see, to enjoy said goo to its fullest, you need to spoon some out, put a little in your mouth, and try to just eat the goo without eating the seed. You sort of bite down on the tip of the seed to hold it in place and suck off the jelly-like casing. It’s not something you want to do in public. It’s messy, a little gross, and feels a little creepy, like you’re sucking on eyeballs or something. Okay, now that I’ve made you NEVER want to try one, I should put in the disclaimer – it’s the consistency of jello. If you like jello, you may not find this whole process that distasteful. I hate jello. It feels like I’m sucking on eyeballs. So there’s that.
But I also have to add: to me, the only possible appeal of jello is how easy it is to eat. It’s why they serve it to people in full-body casts. So if you just take jello and make it hard to get to…well…you’ve lost me. The flavor is pretty nonexistent as well. There’s a hint of melon in there, but so subtle that it’s almost nil. It’s like honeydew but without any of the sweetness and almost no juice whatsoever. If this is how you quench your thirst in the desert, I have learned that I do not want to ever be stuck in the desert. Some have said it’s reminiscent of cucumber, but there’s not nearly that much flavor to it. It’s very, very subtle.
Now the lazy among you out there (me! me! oh that’s me!) might think, Forget the goo-sucking, you pansy. Just eat the stupid seeds. And you’re right. You can. I did. You know when you’re enjoying a nice ripe cantaloupe and all of a sudden you get an accidental seed that slipped through? It’s got that sharp taste of melon-flavored rock? That’s exactly what the seeds taste like. They’re not awful or anything; they just taste like melon seeds and make the whole mouthful taste like melon seeds instead of subtly-flavored goo and make you wonder why you paid three bucks for this alien egg.
Now it does have its good points, I’m sure. For starters, my toddler kept coming back for more spoonfuls, seeds and all. This is a child whose favorite food since he started solids is sauteed spinach, so granted, he’s a weird kid,but clearly there was something likeable about the thing other than the fact Mom was eating it with a strange expression on her face. I also think that if you like pomegranate seeds or similar in, say, a salad, but the flavor’s a little strong, this would give you the same textural effect without the berry flavor, so that might be nice. As decor, the thing’s gorgeous. They keep on the counter for months and look smashing in centerpieces, or you can hollow them out and they have very cool pockets you could stuff something more tasty inside as serving bowls. You could also stab it with a pointy stick and make a very effective mace out of it, I imagine.
Peel? Scoop, really. A few websites say that the peel is edible with salt or sugar, but I haven’t been able to find any particulars.
Edible seed? Yes, but not preferred.
Edible when raw? Yes, straight out of the shell.
Worth the price of organic? They’re so rare as it is, I don’t know if there are even organics available. Personally, I don’t think they’re really worth the price at all, except as a novelty.
In season: They need hot, desert conditions, but if those exist, they’re in season. Currently, they’re grown in Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and California, and a different cultivar in Latin America.
Best with: cocktails seem to the popular use, and fruit salads. The seeds are unusually high in iron, for a fruit.
How to Store: On the counter, not in the fridge. They’ll keep for up to three months.