Diversifying Agriculture for Better Lives

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07 October 2011
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Stuffed cucumbers are a delicacy, and if you have travelled in the Andes, you may have come across something even better, namely a dish made from the fruits of Cyclanthera pedata – also a cucurbit – which grow a big cavity wanting to be filled with other food stuffs as if to prove “intelligent design”. There is now much hype surrounding the supposedly “pharmacological effects” from swallowing capsules containing a flour made from the dried fruits, but we derive much greater pleasure from eating a well cooked “pepino de rellenar”, or caigua or achojcha as the fruit is known in mountainous areas of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

We have never seen this crop outside its native range, and so it was quite a surprise when our friend Dr Thimmaiah [email hidden; JavaScript is required], an agricultural specialist advising the Ministry of Agriculture in Bhutan, pointed out to us the popularity of Cyclanthera pedata in that country and neighbouring North-Eastern India and Nepal. Elderly informants in Bhutan remember this crop being cultivated by their forbears so it can’t be a recent introduction. It is now grown all over Bhutan, in kitchen gardens and for commercial purposes, at considerable altitude, particularly in the regions of Punaka (altitude 1000-1200 masl), Trashigang (2200-2300 masl), Chukka (2300-2600 masl), Paro (2400-2800 masl) and Bhumtang (2700-3400 masl).

The common names used in Bhutan for this plant include “slippery gourd”,  “olochoto” and “kichipoktho” (crow’s beak), “korila” (also used for bitter gourds) as well as “ajangkairu” and “carabanthu”. Dr Thimmaiah describes the plant as a vigorous annual climber, which grows up to 5-7 meters length. Propagation is by seeds. The plants are spaced at 1 by 1 meters and staked after the first leaves have appeared. In kitchen gardens the plant is allowed to creep on fences. The first fruits can be harvested in about 45 days after planting, and the plants bear fruits for several months. The plant also does well when cultivated in plastic greenhouses during winter months. Slippery gourds fetch a good price in the market. In the early season it is sold at about US$ 2 per kg, at peak season at about US$1 per kg.

In Bhutan the slippery gourd is cooked with local cheese and chillies. The fruit are cut in halves longitudinally and briefly boiled in salted water. Local cheese and chillies are put to the pan and cooked for another 5 minutes. This dish it is called ‘datsi’ or ‘olochoto datsi’.

Fruits of Cyclanthera pedata produced in Bhutan, cut longitudinally to show the large cavity used for stuffing the fruit in Latin America (Photo: A Thimmaiah)

Seeds of Cyclanthera pedata produced in Bhutan (Photo: A Thimmaiah)

10 Responses so far.

  1. Sharon says:

    We are growing cyclanthera for the first time in New Plymouth, New Zealand. The few plants we have growing are taking over the garden and producing a regular supply of thumb sized fruit. They are tasty, fresh and taste very similar to cucummber we have only been eating them raw as we can’t wait for them to grow :-) We will definitely being growing these again!

  2. Satoshi Yamaguchi says:

    I tried growing Calycanthera last year, in Tokyo, Japan. The flower bloomed much and I expected harvest in summer, however, I got no fruit at all. All female flower dropped off. Some ants ate up the pollen of male flowers. My plants could not survive over hot summer that time.So, I lost all seeds. When I expedited in Nepal, I saw plentiful fruits were on the roof of village people’s house. I enjoyed its dishes everyday at that time.
    This year I will try again its cultivation, if I can get enough seeds. I want to domesticate it under the climate of Japan. It would become promising new vegetable crop.
    S.Yamaguchi, Professor of Tamagawa University (Fac agr., Lab.Pl.Breed.), Tokyo, Japan

    • Thimmaiah says:

      Prof. Yamaguchi you may have to shift your cultivation and try sowing during late summer or early autumn. The flowers are very sensitive to temperatures above 38 degree celcius. While domesticating any new vegetable I try to sow few seeds in every season and look into the probablity of survival and production.

      • Satoshi Yamaguchi says:

        Thank you Dr.Thimmaish
        However, the number of initial seeds was only 10. I seeded all in early Spring. This time I failed getting next batch of seeds for future study. Still no one succeeded the commercial cultivation of this new vegetable to Japan. I liked this very much. During my trekking in Himalaya, this was served often for our dishes. Very splendid vegetable, tis is indeed. I want to get new seeds and request for several my intimate friends in India, Nepal and Vietnam, but still not receive any good news.

  3. Sue Rine says:

    I’m growing cyclanthera for the first time in a tunnel house in Taranaki, New Zealand. I’ve harvested the first dozen or so fruits quite small and have eaten them whole and raw. To me they taste somewhat like a cross between cucumber and raw peas and are fine but nothing to rave about. I’ll have a go at pickling them and have left some to grow larger to try stuffing them and will also leave some to save seed.

  4. Ton Vreeken says:

    We sell the seeds since 1997 in Holland. People like them a lot for the ornamental growth and the nice fruits, who are picked quite young here and eaten fresh or as pickles (in vinegar). Not every summer is warm enough to harvest fruits, but most are.

  5. Rhizowen says:

    Although C. pedata will grow here, we find that a close relative, C. brachystachya does very well in the UK and will even self seed.

  6. santosh sanjel says:

    I am a nepali agriculture student. Here in nepal also this crop is popular and is called “BARELA”(loca language). I was surprised to see the same on bhutan. I do have this on my kitchen garden.

    • suresh udupa says:

      Mr Santosh,
      Will you please send 3 or 4 seeds to grow in my kitchen garden. I am interested in this plant. I am staying in Mangalore, Karnataka State, India.

  7. jp says:

    We grow them in southern Portugal, they are currently producing excellent vegetables

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