Posted on 2 Comments

The Snake Melons

What is an snake melon? What is an Armenian cucumber?

Similar to other muskmelons, Snake melons are from the species Cucumis melo, but instead of the melon being a round sweet fruit that is consumed when ripe, snake melons are long savory fruit that are picked immature and consumed as cucumbers. Snake melons are a variety of Cucumis melo called flexuous. The term flexuous means “full of bends and curves” and is synonymous with the word “curvy”. Unlike the United States and Canada, most countries have their own name for this unripe melon, which – in the local vernacular – means the same thing as what we call an “Armenian cucumber”.

While the stereotypical snake melon is light-green long and curvy, not all of them are. They come in a variety of lengths, colors and patterns. There are some that are dark green, striped, splotchy, extra long and thin, short and some that are so light that they are nearly white.

The Light Armenian Cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuous)
The Light Armenian Cucumber compared with the Dark Armenian Cucumber (both Cucumis melo var flexuous)

Why are snake melons often called “Armenian” Cucumbers?

Armenian Cucumbers are mainly called that because they were brought by Armenian immigrants into the central valley of California somewhere between the late 1800s and early 1900s and became well known afterwards. While they are called “Armenian cucumbers” in the United States, these melons (Cucumis melo) that are picked immature as cucumbers have a long history dating back to ancient Egypt and were once the primary type of cucumber in much of the world. Many countries (and sometimes different regions within a country) have their own name for this type of cucumber.

The Dark Armenian Cucumber or Tortarello Scuro Barese is a Cucumis Melo cucumber
Slices of the Dark Armenian cucumber or Tortarello Scuro Barese cucumber (C. melo)

How do you know when to Pick a snake melon or Armenian cucumber?

Picking an snake melon is similar to picking a zucchini or any slender summer squash. The easiest way to determine when to pick an snake melon is by the diameter. Armenian cucumbers are usually most palatable when between 1-2 inches in diameter. The goal is to pick a crisp, yet slightly tender juicy cucumber. If picked too early, the fruit can be a bit dry yet somewhat tender while if it is picked later the fruit can be quite juicy but more firm and crunchy than a carrot. It is important to check the vines often for fruit because the ideal window of time for picking is usually only a few days. If the fruit is left on to mature for seed, the vines tend to siphon their strength into existing fruit for seed production instead of producing more fruit.

The Painted Serpent or Striped Armenian (Cucumis melo var. flexuous)
Slices of the Striped Armenian, or Painted Serpent Cucumber
The Facussa is a very rare snake melon from Carloforte in Sardinia, Italy
Posted on Leave a comment

The Cucumber-Melons

What is a cucumber-melon?

Often when people think of a cucumber, they imagine an American long green thick-skinned waxy fruit that is purchased from a grocery store. Others imagine a Long English cucumber or a Lebanese thin-skinned small fruit. Even if an individual has never encountered a bitter cucumber or experienced indigestion from eating one, he may consider cucumbers to be bland, watery fruit that exhibit a bit of a slightly bitter sappy aftertaste. To all those who has become accustomed to the flavor, texture and aftertaste of regular Cucumis sativus cucumbers, and would prefer a better experience – there is a much better cucumber available.

Assorted Cucumis melo cucumbers, or cucumber-melons (See

Prior to the introduction of regular Cucumis sativus cucumbers, melons were the only cucumbers many were familiar with. Unlike the mature sweet muskmelons that we are accustomed to, Cucumis melo (or C. melo) was picked as a savory immature long delicious cucumber. From Ancient Egypt, C. melo cucumbers made their way to Europe. They were sought after by various groups of people and were a staple of kings and emperors.

The Cucumis melo varieties that are most suitable as cucumbers have been selected to be picked immature as cucumbers and generally have a taste, texture and growth habit that ensure that the expression of their best traits occurs during the immature stage of fruit development. The heat-loving vines develop fruit that is crisp, yet tender, bitter-free and gentle on the stomach. They slowly transpire water, have a moderate water content and often impart a rich, almost complex flavor with a slightly sweet aftertaste. For comparison sake, cucumber-melons are like tomatoes in that they are a fruit that is consumed as a savory vegetable. Or you can think of them in the way that a zucchini is an immature form of squash. In short, cucumber-melons can be considered the gourmet “zucchini” of the muskmelon family.

Some Cucumis melo (melons) picked immature as cucumbers (see carosellopugliese.blogspot)

Cucumis melo fruit that is picked immature as a cucumber is often referred to as a melon cucumber or a “cucumber-melon”. While there are many indigenous varieties, there are two main types that people may be familiar with. The first and most common is, in America, referred to as an Armenian cucumber. One who has seen an Armenian-type cucumber will most likely envision a long light green smooth fruit with rounded ridges. But there are other types of Armenian cucumber including those that are light, dark, striped, splotched or may have other characteristics that set it apart from a regular Armenian cucumber. The Armenian cucumber also goes by many different names, depending upon the country someone lives in. The second, lesser known type of C. melo cucumber originates from southern Italy. These gourmet Italian cucumbers are generally referred to as “carosello”. Although shorter than most Armenian cucumbers, they display a range of flavors, colors, shapes and sizes.

Should someone ever get the chance to taste a cucumber-melon, they may find it very worthwhile. With their crisp, tender-yet-crisp, bitter-free rich texture and rich flavor it is no wonder why this was the cucumber sought after by kings.