Cucamelon: Not the Love Child of a Cucumber and a Watermelon (2024)

By: Nathan Chandler|Updated: Jan 12, 2024

Cucamelon: Not the Love Child of a Cucumber and a Watermelon (1)

Whether you call it a mouse melon, a Mexican sour gherkin, or by its popular U.S. name, cucamelon, this adorable fruit is the latest in a recent burst of "rediscovered" produce making inroads into American food culture. Originally hailing from Central America, where they've been eaten for centuries, cucamelons look like teensy ripe watermelons but have a unique flavor all their own.

So, where have cucamelons been all of this time? And how can you utilize them in the kitchen? In this article, we'll reveal the history of the cucamelon and discuss how to best enjoy this Mexican miniature watermelon.

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Contents

  1. Are These Mini Cucumber Plants?
  2. The Taste of the "Mexican Sour Cucumber"
  3. From Seeds to Cucamelon Tubers
  4. How to Grow Cucamelons
  5. Bring Mouse Melons to Your Garden Space

Are These Mini Cucumber Plants?

Full-grown cucamelons are not, it should be noted, a hybrid of watermelons and cucumbers, but rather in a genus of their own (Melothria scabra). They're about the size of a ripe grape. The exterior features a thin rind, tender enough that you can pop the whole fruit in your mouth right from the vine. You'll immediately taste a cucumber flavor, one that's doused with a distinctive splash of lemon tartness.

Originating in Central America, particularly in Mexico and parts of Central America, this fruit has been cultivated for centuries. It is often referred to as "Mexican sour gherkin" or "mouse melon" and has been a part of traditional diets in its native regions for generations. The cucamelon is part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers and melons, but it stands out due to its unique size and appearance.

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The Taste of the "Mexican Sour Cucumber"

Cucamelons are renowned for their distinctive flavor, which is a blend of a cucumber's freshness and a subtle hint of sourness, reminiscent of a lime. This unique taste makes them an exciting addition to various culinary creations. These ripe fruits are typically the size of grapes and have a crunchy texture, adding a delightful crunch to dishes. Nutritionally, cucamelons are low in calories but packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, making them a healthy choice for snacking or adding to salads.

Cucamelons are versatile. You can throw them into a salad just as you would any other bite-sized vegetable, or simply snack on them with salt. Accentuate their tart taste by pickling them, or skewer them and use as a fancy co*cktail garnish. Sautéing these Mexican sour cucumbers with olive oil, salt, and pepper is another popular idea. Regardless of preparation, there's no need to slice or peel them, because the rind is tender and mild.

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From Seeds to Cucamelon Tubers

The ease of growing cucamelons, even in small garden spaces or containers, has contributed to their increasing popularity among garden enthusiasts. Their resilience and low maintenance make them a suitable choice for novice gardeners. The cucamelon plant produces both male flowers and female flowers on the same plant.

Growing cucamelon seeds is a rewarding and straightforward process, making these unique fruits accessible to gardeners of all skill levels. To start, it's best to plant seeds indoors about 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost date. Use small pots or seed trays filled with nutrient-rich, well draining soil.

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Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged. Cucamelon seeds thrive in warm conditions, so maintaining a temperature around 70-75°F (21-24°C) will encourage germination, usually within 7-14 days. Once the seedlings have developed several leaves and the outdoor temperatures have consistently warmed, they can be transplanted outside.

How to Grow Cucamelons

Cucamelon plants grow well outdoors in full sun. These tiny watermelons require a trellis or stakes to climb, as well as a deep watering once or twice per week. Make sure to offer them well drained soil and light fertilization.

They do best in temperatures that don't sink below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). If your nighttime lows drop below 50, you may still be able to grow these vines so long as you opt for containers. If you live in a colder climate and opt to start your seeds indoors, transplant the seedlings only once frost is no longer a concern.

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The cucamelon vine measures about 4 feet (1.2 meters) long and bears heavy fruit throughout the summer season. If you live in a warmer climate, the plants may have a chance to produce tubers, which you can then replant the following year – and the plants are known as better producers the second time around.

Bring Mouse Melons to Your Garden Space

The cucamelon's journey from a traditional Central American fruit to a trendy culinary ingredient in kitchens worldwide is a testament to its unique appeal and versatility. As more people discover this delightful fruit, its popularity is sure to continue growing, enriching culinary experiences with its distinctive flavor and nutritional benefits.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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Now That's Interesting

The sour punch in cucamelons gets stronger the longer you leave them on the vine. To minimize the sour taste, pick them as soon as possible, when the fruits are about 1 inch (25 millimeters) long.

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