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Ethiopian melons are small to medium-sized fruits, averaging 18 to 20 centimeters in diameter, and have a round, oval, to ovate shape. The rind is thin, firm, and rough, covered in spots of pale yellow netting and mesh. The rind also has distinct and uniform, yellow-orange, convex segments giving the melon a ridged appearance with a pale green hue in the crevices. Underneath the surface, the flesh is dense, firm, aqueous, and white with pale green edges, encasing a central cavity filled with pockets of tan, oval seeds. Ethiopian melons are highly aromatic with a fruity and subtle floral scent. When young, the flesh bears a vegetal, herbaceous flavor, and as the melon ripens, the flesh sweetens, developing honeyed, sugared notes.
Ethiopian melons are available in the late summer through fall.
Ethiopian melons are a part of the Cucumis genus and are small, fragrant fruits belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. The cultivar grows on compact vines and is known for its productive nature, with each vine producing 5 to 6 melons per season. Despite their African name, Ethiopian melons were developed in Russia in the early 21st century and were named for their similarity in appearance to African melon varieties. Ethiopian melons are favored for their sweet taste, disease resistance, adaptability, and extended storage capabilities. The melons are cultivated commercially throughout Central Asia and are also grown in home gardens, primarily consumed fresh as a snack or dessert.
Ethiopian melons are a good source of fiber to regulate the digestive tract and vitamin C to boost the immune system. The melons also provide iron to build the protein hemoglobin to transport oxygen in the blood, calcium to strengthen bones, and other minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc. In folk medicines throughout Central Asia, Ethiopian melons are utilized as a natural diuretic and are used topically to reduce inflammation.
Ethiopian melons are best suited for fresh applications as the juicy, sweet flesh is showcased when consumed straight, out-of-hand. The melons can be sliced and eaten raw, discarding the rind, or they can be cut and tossed into green and fruit salads. Ethiopian melons can also be blended into juices, smoothies, and fruit punches or scooped into balls and mixed into yogurts and puddings. In addition to fresh applications, Ethiopian melons can be incorporated into sorbets and mousses, baked with spices and herbs, or sliced into strips and dried for extended use. Ethiopian melons pair well with granola, herbs such as mint, basil, and cilantro, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, vanilla, gardenia, and nuts such as hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios. Whole, unsliced Ethiopian melons will keep 2 to 4 weeks when stored in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Since the early ages, Melon festivals have been annually held throughout Central Asia to honor the economically significant fruit. One of the first records of a melon festival is linked to Khorezm, an ancient, historical region known for its vast fortresses and castles. Melons were sacred for their life-giving hydration, and in the modern-day, the fruits are still consumed in arid regions of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as a source of water. Many locally grown varieties of melons, including Ethiopian, are proudly displayed in town squares and markets during the festivals, and the fruits are often arranged into large, sculptural piles as decoration. Vendors also construct stalls to sell fresh melons, melon juice, candied melon, dried melon, and pickled melon. Beyond melon sampling, many festivals feature unique activities, including melon eating contests, chess games played with small melons, and melon bowling competitions.
Ethiopian melons are descendants of ancient melon varieties native to Central Asia and were developed in Russia in 2013. The fairly new cultivar was selected for its ability to be grown in temperate climates, extended storage capabilities, and disease resistance. The melons can also be grown from seed in fields or cultivated in greenhouses, depending on the environment. Today Ethiopian melons are cultivated in Russia and are also grown throughout Central Asia, including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.