Are you looking for a tropical fruit that has a similar crisp, sweet taste to an apple? Well you’re in luck! There’s a delicious fruit from Mexico that provides just that: the pepino dulce, also called pepino melon or just pepino.
The pepino is part of the Solanaceae plant family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. The name “pepino” means cucumber in Spanish, and the melon does resemble a cucumber on the outside. But one bite will tell you that the flavor is very different! This fruit is much sweeter with an apple-like taste.
Identifying the Pepino Fruit
The pepino plant produces small bushy vines with pretty purple flowers. The oval fruits that form can grow quite large, up to 1-2 pounds. Their thin, golden-yellow skin covers juicy, fragrant flesh. Inside, small edible seeds give a slight crunch.
When ripe, pepinos take on a vibrant yellow color. Unripe fruits will still be greenish. Size can also indicate ripeness. The pepinos are ready to eat when they reach 4-6 inches long.
The Origin of Pepino Melon
The pepino plant is native to temperate Andean regions of South America, especially Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. It has been cultivated there for centuries, valued for its hardy nature and sweet fruit.
In the late 19th century, pepinos started gaining interest in Europe after Chilean specimens were displayed at the 1883 Hamburg International Horticulture Exhibition. Not long after, the plant was introduced to gardens in England as well.
From Europe, the pepino melon spread to North America and other parts of the world. It is still grown on a small commercial scale in South America and New Zealand. But most of the supply today comes from Mexico, hence its association with Mexican cuisine.
Flavor and Texture of Pepino Fruit
The interior of the pepino has a pale yellow or greenish flesh reminiscent of a honeydew melon. Its flavor is often described as a mix of cucumber and honeydew with a sweetness like ripe pear or apple.
The flesh is crunchy when ripe, though not quite as firm as an apple. It contains a relatively high water content, keeping each bite juicy and refreshing.
A slight tang may come through in some varieties, while others tend toward a richer, almost banana-like taste. The seeds provide a nice textural contrast kind of like the seeds in a kiwi fruit.
How to Eat Pepinos
Pepinos can be eaten raw, cooked, or processed into juice, jams or desserts. Their high pectin content makes them great for jellies. When cooked, they tend to take on a richer, more banana-like flavor.
To enjoy raw, simply rinse the fruit, slice off the ends, and cut into wedges or cubes. The skin is completely edible. Pepinos also make a nutritious addition to salads, salsas, or vegetable platters.
Try using pepino slices as a unique topping on sandwiches and burgers. They can be grilled, roasted or sauteed as well. Blend into smoothies, infuse into water or use to sweeten ice pops for a refreshing summer treat.
Pairing Pepinos with Other Foods
The mild sweet-tart flavor of pepinos allows them to pair well with both savory and sweet ingredients:
- Salty cheeses like feta or goat cheese
- Fresh herbs like mint, basil, cilantro
- Nuts and seeds such as pistachios or pumpkin seeds
- Tangy fruits like lime, pineapple, kiwi
- Tropical flavors like coconut, mango, guava
- Spices like chili powder, cumin, cinnamon
- Rich ingredients like avocado, cream, olive oil
Try using pepino in place of cucumber in chilled summer soups like gazpacho. You can also candy or pickle pepino slices to make a unique garnish for cocktails and other dishes.
Health Benefits of Pepino Melon
In addition to their delicious flavor, pepinos offer some great health benefits:
- Hydrating – Their high water content helps hydrate the body.
- Low calorie – Pepinos have just 40 calories per cup sliced.
- High fiber – The seeds and skin provide good amounts of fiber for digestion.
- Antioxidants – Contains carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Vitamin C – A good source of immune-boosting vitamin C.
- Potassium – Provides potassium to support nerve and muscle function.
The pepino may help reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, and lower cholesterol levels as well. Their high water and fiber content can aid digestion and weight loss efforts too.
Where to Buy Pepino Melon
Fresh pepino may be hard to find at regular supermarkets, since they are still rather obscure. Look for them at specialty grocers, Latin markets, and farmers markets in mid to late summer.
When shopping, choose fruits that feel heavy for their size with mostly yellow rinds. Avoid any with brown spots or soft indentations.
Look for pepinos grown in Mexico for better availability and flavor. The skins may still have some tiny spines, which is normal.
Once ripe, pepinos can be kept at room temperature for 2-3 days. For longer storage, refrigerate them for up to 2 weeks. Unripe fruits can ripen at room temp over several days.
If fresh pepinos prove too hard to find, look for jarred or canned versions. These work nicely for cooking or adding to smoothies and desserts.
You can also find pepino in juice form, leading to their nickname “melon pear”. The juice provides a great way to sample their flavor if the fruit itself isn’t available.
Growing Pepinos at Home
Want to try growing your own pepino melons? Here are some tips:
- Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost
- Transplant seedlings when soil reaches 65°F
- Needs full sun and well-draining soil
- Water when top inch of soil dries out
- Fertilize every 2-3 weeks during growth
- Harvest when fruits feel slightly soft and change color
- Ripe fruits detach easily from stems
This heat-loving crop does best in hot, dry climates. Provide plenty of sun, regular watering, and fertile soil for a successful harvest.
|Pepino Plant Care Tips
|Full sun, at least 6 hours/day
|Well-draining loam, pH 6.0-7.0
|1-2 inches per week, let soil partially dry out between
|Prefers warm conditions 70-90°F
|Compost tea or soluble fertilizer every 2-3 weeks
|Pinch back tips to encourage branching
|55-65 days from transplant, fruits detach when ripe
With proper care, you can enjoy homegrown pepinos during the summer months. They are fun to add to the garden alongside tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.
How Pepinos Differ from Cantaloupe
Since the pepino goes by “pepino melon”, some confusion exists around how it compares to true melons like cantaloupe. So what’s the difference?
While cantaloupe is a type of muskmelon in the Cucurbitaceae family, the pepino belongs to the nightshade Solanaceae family. Some key distinctions:
- Cantaloupe has a rough, netted rind with orange flesh
- Pepino has smooth, yellow skin with light yellow-green flesh
- Cantaloupe is sweeter and more aromatic
- Pepino is milder tasting with cucumber and pear notes
- Cantaloupe flesh is juicy but firm
- Pepino flesh is crunchy and watery
- Cantaloupe seeds are edible but scooped out
- Pepino seeds are small, tender, and eaten
- Cantaloupe is often eaten alone as slices or fruit salad
- Pepino works better mixed into salsas, salads, etc.
So in summary, the pepino has a more subtle, herbaceous taste compared to the sweeter cantaloupe. It also has a crisper, juicier texture punctuated by tiny edible seeds throughout. Try both to see which melon suits your taste buds!
3 Tasty Pepino Recipes to Try
Looking for culinary inspiration for the pepino melon? Here are 3 delicious recipes that showcase its flavors:
1. Pepino Guacamole
Swap mild pepino for avocado in this unique twist on guacamole. The bright, citrusy flavors pair perfectly with the mellow base.
- 2 ripe pepinos, diced
- 1 tomato, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1 handful cilantro, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mix together all ingredients except lime juice.
- Squeeze lime juice over top and stir to combine.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve with tortilla chips or raw veggies.
2. Thai Pepino Salad
Cool, crunchy pepino pairs wonderfully with the spicy-tangy Thai flavors in this salad.
- 2 pepinos, cut into thin strips
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp chili garlic paste
- 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped (for garnish)
- In a bowl, mix together the pepino, carrot, bell pepper, cilantro and green onion.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, lime juice, fish sauce and chili garlic paste.
- Drizzle dressing over vegetables and toss to coat evenly.
- Top with chopped peanuts before serving.
3. Pepino Lime Sorbet
For a cool, refreshing dessert, puree pepino with lime and simple syrup. Freeze into a bright, sweet-tart sorbet.
- 2 pepinos, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Make simple syrup by boiling sugar and water until dissolved.
- Let syrup cool completely before using.
- Puree pepino chunks in a blender until smooth.
- Mix in lime juice and simple syrup.
- Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- For no machine, freeze in a shallow dish, stirring every 30 minutes until set.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a pepino melon taste like?
Pepinos have a mild, sweet-tart flavor reminiscent of cucumber, honeydew melon, and Asian pear. Their juicy flesh is crisp and crunchy.
Where do pepino melons come from?
The pepino plant originated in South America and was later brought to Europe. Today most commercial pepinos come from Mexico.
How do you eat a pepino melon?
Pepinos can be eaten raw in slices, cubes, or wedges. You can also cook, grill, pickle, or juice them. Try adding to salsas, salads, desserts, and more.
Are pepino melons healthy?
Yes, pepinos provide vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. They are low calorie, hydrating, and may help reduce inflammation.
What is the pepino melon season?
In the Northern hemisphere, pepinos are in season during the summer months from June through September when grown outdoors.
Can you grow pepino melons at home?
Yes, pepinos can be grown at home with full sun exposure, fertile soil, regular watering, and warm temperatures. Start seeds indoors before transplanting outside after the last frost.
If you love the crisp bite of an apple but want to explore exotic new fruits, give the pepino melon a try. Grown in Mexico and parts of South America, this sweet-tart tropical treat offers hydration, nutrition, and a totally unique flavor.
Add pepino slices to salads, salsas, sandwiches, and more to level up mealtime. Their mild flavor also works nicely in desserts, drinks, and popsicles for a cool, refreshing treat. Just be sure to enjoy pepinos during summer when they are freshest and in season.
With tasty recipes, health benefits, and easy growth at home, the pepino melon makes a great addition to any diet. Keep an eye out for these little yellow fruits at your local farmers market or specialty store.