Thursday, July 19, 2007

In defense of the kiwano

There is something a bit primitive about the kiwano. This spiky vegetable (or is it a fruit?) belongs in a tropical jungle, not in some aseptic supermarket. Where else would I have come across it but at Pierre's stall, where it looked right at home next to stripy green tomatoes and miniature yellow pumpkins?
Looking like a cross between a cucumber and a hand grenade, the kiwano sat in my fridge for a few days while I wondered what to do with it and put off taking its portrait. In the meantime I discovered that it's one of the most hated foods on the Internet, reviled for its slimy flesh, tough seeds and off-putting taste.
I think the problem is that this native of Africa, which is also known as the horned melon, is being marketed as a fruit. When people think "fruit" they naturally think "sweet," and the kiwano is definitely not sweet. It's closer to a cucumber than a melon, with a lemon-like acidity and loads of Vitamin C. But, lest you start to think that the kiwano is in any way ordinary, consider that when I cut it in half this white-fleshed fruit released a blood-like pink juice. Spooky.

The kiwano most commonly despised by bloggers is orange-skinned while mine was green, which might explain why it was perfectly edible. The seeds were only slightly bigger and harder than those of an ordinary cucumber and I could have happily thrown small bits of it into a salad. Fortunately, it had none of the sliminess that I had read about with dread.
Still, I couldn't see myself eating a whole kiwano all on my own - and Philippe and Sam were showing little interest - so I decided to turn it into juice, using a couple of the firm little garden pears that I had recently bought from producer Dominique. They weren't soft enough to eat but they were just right for juice, as ripe pears turn into brown mush when pressed through a juicer.
I used 1 kiwano, 2 small pears and a knob of ginger for good measure to make a frothy, pale green drink.
You know what? It tasted good enough that I wondered why I don't use my juicer more often - until it came time to clean out all those little seeds.
Nasty as the orange kiwano sounds, I think the green one deserves a chance precisely because it doesn't aim to please. After all, the world has enough Golden Delicious apples and Del Monte bananas. I wouldn't want to see this rebellious fruit, which reminds me a bit of myself as a spiky-haired teenager, go the way of the dinosaurs.

Note: Since writing this I spoke to Pierre, who confirmed that the green kiwano is the unripe fruit. If he had left it on the vine it would have turned orange, but I think he was probably wise to snip it off.


Susan said...

I've never seen this beast before. It sounds harmless enough. Surely it must have its advocates somewhere, as the durian does. Thanks, Rosa, for the fun post.

Maninas said...

fun post + great photos! must say that the kiwano actually looks quite beautiful....

Wendy said...

Will keep my eye out for this fruit. It certainly is weird looking!

Rosa said...

Susan, it is pretty harmless, unlike the durian! I'm starting to think that the only difference between the green and orange kiwano is that the green one is unripe. Maybe it's just best to avoid the ripe ones.

Maninas, it is quite stunning looking, isn't it?

Or perhaps weird is a better word for the way it looks, Wendy!

Nora B. said...

I love the first photo :-) Thanks for the info. about kiwano. I've never heard of it before, I'm not even sure if I've seen it before.

Lucy said...

Spooky juices. Shudder.

But it looks rather cute really. Love the dinosaur. You know, I've never seen or heard of a kiwano. Juice sounds lovely.

Hate cleaning the juicer afterwards though...

Rosa said...

Thanks, Nora! There is quite a bit of kiwano being grown in New Zealand, so maybe it will become more common.

Lucy, the pink juice is quite odd but mixed with pear and ginger it really was a lovely drink, worth cleaning the juicer for!

Anonymous said...

My 9-yr-old daughter saw it at Rouse's (our local grocery chain here in Louisiana) and wanted to try it. It was orange and felt ripe. When she cut it in half it reminded me of pomegranate, with seeds floating in gel. It didn't have much flavor and was not slimy. She adored discovering a new fruit, so it was worth the $5. But I don't think it's the next kiwi or passion fruit by any means.
Pam and Margot