Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


By Scott Sheu

Solanum muricatum

Pepino dulce, Pepino Melon, Melon Shrub, Melon Pear

The pepino gets its name from the Spanish word for “cucumber” due to some similarities of taste and texture between the two.  However, this member of the nightshade family is sweet when ripe, earning it the modern moniker pepino dulce (“sweet cucumber”).

Geographical Description

            The pepino is native to the South American Andes, where it was central to the Incan diet in pre-Columbian times.  Many pepino-shaped vessels, amulets, and other ornamentals have been excavated from Incan sites.  By the time the Spanish arrived, the plant was already widespread throughout the Incan empire, which included Peru, Ecuador, northern Chile, and parts of Bolivia (Prohens).  The pepino also made a big impression on the Spanish, who spread the fruit throughout South and Central America.  The pepino was widely introduced to Europe in the 18th century, spreading from Spain to other countries.  The pepino was also grown in the California and Florida by the late 19th century.  It has since become an important commercial crop in New Zealand, Chile, and California and is an especially popular fruit in Japan.

Botanical Description

            The pepino plant is an erect, bushy herb that can reach up to 2-3 feet high and has been compared to a tomato vine in appearance.  It has thin branches that hold bright green leaves covered with tiny hairs.  The pepino’s small, sparse flowers are blue, violet, or white marked with purple.

            The fruit comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Most pepino fruits sold commercially are oval-shaped, around 2-4 inches long, and generally seedless.  It turns from a light green to a pale yellow color with purple streaks and spots when ripened.   The flesh ranges from white to pale yellow and has a mildly sweet, juicy taste that is comparable to the honeydew or cantaloupe (CRFG).

Culinary Usage

            When eaten fresh, the flesh of the pepino is usually scooped or peeled to avoid the bitter skin.  Unripe pepinos can also be eaten and treated much like a cucumber in salads, baked like a squash and used in a variety of other dishes.

Other Usages

            According to one 17th century writer, the juice of the pepino “mixed with pink ointment, is profitable against kidney heat” (Prohens, Ruiz & Nuez).  Pepino plants have also been used as ornamentals, especially due to the powerful scent that the fruit gives off.



Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

National Research Council Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation. Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andews with Promise for Worldwide Cultvivation. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 1989. Google Books. Web.

"Pepino Dulce Fruit Facts." California Rare Fruit Growers. Web. <>.

Prohens, Jaime, Juan J. Ruiz, and Fernando Nuez. "The Pepino (Solanum Muricatum, Solanaceae): A "New" Crop with a History." Economic Botany 1996. Print.

Weaver, William Woys. 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 2000. Google Books. Web.