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.
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.
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.