Kiwano: It's what's inside that counts

Despite its hot orange hue and devilish spikes, the horned melon is actually one cool fruit. The pulp is a vivid green and stuffed with seeds. The flavor is a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini. Its wild shape and color attracts attention, a reason perhaps why the horned melon is put to a number of decorative uses.

Horned melons originated in south and central Africa, according to Purdue University's Center for New Crops & Plant Products. The plant, an annual vine, is a member of the cucumber, melon and pumpkin family. It is grown around the world, notably in New Zealand and California.

Horned melon also is known as Kiwano (KEY-wano), a trademark name registered by New Zealand growers. Other names include: melano, African horned cucumber, jelly melon, hedged gourd, English tomato.

BUYING TIPS: Look for horned melon in specialty-food markets and some supermarkets. The fruit should range in length from 3 to 5 inches and not have any bruises or soft spots. Horned melon is available year-round but its peak season is summer (those in stores now come from New Zealand, where it's summer). No need for refrigeration.

COOKING SUGGESTIONS: Slice the fruit in half and spoon out the pulp. It can be eaten raw, including the seeds. A sprinkling of sugar is optional. The pulp can be used in soups, smoothies, dips and sauces. Peeled, the fruit can be tossed in fruit salads, according to Melissa's specialty-produce company. Use the split shells as containers for the finished dishes.