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The fluted pumpkin, a West African delicacy

To someone seeing it for the first time, the fluted pumpkin has a dramatic, attention-grabbing appearance. The fruit of the tropical vine Telfairia occidentalis is large, growing to more than 10kg on full maturity, and with 10 distinctive longitudinal ribs on the outside. It is considered a delicacy in parts of West Africa, particularly in south-eastern Nigeria.

The flesh of the fruit is not widely considered to be edible, and the roots of the plant are said to be poisonous. The edible parts of the plant are the large red seeds, numbering between 150 to 200 per fruit, and the leaves and young shoots, which are commonly used in a popular traditional soup in Nigeria. The protein-rich seeds can be roasted like nuts, pounded or ground up into powder for various uses including the preparation of fermented porridge. The flesh of the fruit has a good oil content and is sometimes used to extract cooking oil. A technical college reported making experimental marmalade of high quality from the fruit.

The vine is perennial and drought-tolerant. Despite its interesting features and many potential uses, the fluted pumpkin has remained a regional treasure, largely unknown outside of West Africa. In addition to Nigeria, it is also widely grown in Ghana and Sierra Leone. It is mostly grown by smallholders and sold in local markets. There has so far been little large-scale commercial cultivation, and exports have mainly been in small quantities to communities of West Africans in various parts of the world.

There is growing attention being paid all over the world to local, well-adapted fruits and vegetables for study, food security and commercial cultivation purposes. These indigenous crops have often been neglected in favour of well-known, better-marketed exotic species that are often difficult and expensive to cultivate profitably and sustainably. Increasingly adventurous global consumers on the look-out for interesting nutritious novelty foods and entrepreneurs appreciative of the many potential by-products of the fluted pumpkin may soon change its fortunes.

Publication date: 5/23/2007
Author: Chido Makunike


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