Saturday, December 1, 2012

Kiwano of the Kalahari, a delicious treat for elephants, rhinos, giraffes and ... humans.

The kiwano, prickly melon, African cucumber, kino, milu, gaka or gakachika is a cucurbitaceae plant of scientific name Cucumis metuliferus, adapted to capricious rainfall cycle of Kalahari Desert.

The fruit of Cucumis metuliferus when ripe acquires a nice green orange color with curious geographical drawings reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal paintings. It is oval and covered with thorns as rhino horn. Therefore used as a decorative element in the centerpieces and mixed with other fruits in fruit baskets. It consumes peeled and diced or sliced ​​in salads especially. It also can be squeezed like a lemon getting a delicious juice very rich in vitamins and antioxidants that can be eaten fresh or freeze and make it a refreshing summer sorbet.

The pulp of the Kalahari kiwano looks appetizing. It is very juicy, very acid with a refreshing point that makes people laugh because forcing the diners to make grimacing when chew. No need to remove the seeds, arduous task difficult, given its small size and low consistency. In fact this is how this plant gets to disperse their seeds, traveling in the intestines of desert animals that eat its fruits, especially elephants, rhinos and giraffes, for which is a little treat, a juicy delicacy that refreshes them and soothes the throat of the dry and coriaceous weed that is their food in the desert.

The original wild plant is rich in cucurbitacins, extremely bitter and irritating substances to the digestive tract of mammals, causing nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhea. For the elephants, giraffes and rhinos this purgative effect is good. Eating a few kiwanos not only no hurts them, but gives them vitamin C and will irritate their digestive tract that facilitates intestinal transit and evacuation of many vegetable fibers stuck in the folds of their lengthy colon.

 In return the kiwano gets that their seeds are scarified with digestive juices of these large herbivores and subsequently defecated away from the mother plant, falling on the sand wrapped in a magnificent natural compost that serves as a fertilizer. So can remain for months or even years, until finally a sporadic rain so typical of deserts allowed to germinate, bloom and fruit in just three months, making the most the ephemeral moisture of sandy soil. Its long branches typical of cucurbits extending radially on the sand or climbing on a near bush or tree and every internode develops a fruit that mature takes on a striking orange color and gives off a scent that attracts irresistibly back to elephants, rhinos and giraffes and so repeats the cycle of its life.

The fruits that are grown for human consumption are a mutant selected from the antiquity that lacking cucurbitacins, so are neither bitter nor purgatives. In Africa especially salad grown in Zimbabwe, where they are called gaka or gakachika. Outside its home continent its cultivation has spread to every country in the world with a favorable climate, especially Israel, Chile, United States, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Italy and southern Spain (Almunecar). The name kiwano would put by the New Zealand farmers in allusion to their other best-known crop, the kiwi. Both fruits, one African and one Chinese, are widely grown in this southern country where they have been selecting cultivars growing juicy and aromatic.

Cucumis metuliferus female flower with its ovary covered with bumps that mature transformed into conical spines.

Kiwano male flower. The stems and petioles of the leaves are covered in trichomes.

And finally here you have a delicious salad whose acid taste whets the appetite. It can be eaten as a first course or accompany veal steaks, lamb chops or pork, a rabbit, a quail, sardines, squid or a few grilled cuttlefish. It also combines well with a few shrimp skewers or kebabs.

Kalahari Kiwano Salad.
Refreshing salad made from the pulp of two ripe kiwanos sliced, accompanying with tomato, olives stuffed with anchovies and red curly lettuce leaves, all seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, thyme and salt powder. I assure you that is so delicious and is so appetizing that knows little.


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  2. Gorgeous photos! What a cool story of how God was working. Thanks for sharing!

    Garden designer Norwich & Timber Decking Norwich

  3. Can it be grown as vegetable during the summer in not frost-free area?

    1. In your weather you can only grow in a greenhouse.