Health Benefits of Kiwano

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on July 08, 2023
3 min read

Kiwano, which is also called African horned cucumber or jelly melon, is a tropical fruit native to Africa, Australia, and some islands in the Pacific. It's a member of the cucumber family. It's also sometimes called orange spiky fruit because when it's ripe, its rind is orange and is covered in spiky spurs. The inside of the fruit contains jelly-like pulp and edible seeds. 

Kiwano contains a lot of essential vitamins and minerals. It is water-rich and low in calories. Kiwano fruit contains the following nutrients: 

The fruit contains the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, and lutein. The seeds contain the antioxidants a-tocopherol and β-tocopherol, which are organic forms of Vitamin E. 

The nutrients and antioxidants found in Kiwano offer numerous health benefits, including:

Boosts immune system function. A-tocopherol is an antioxidant that your body needs to work the way it should and stay healthy. It boosts your immune system function and keeps your body from forming blood clots. It also helps protect your cells against damage from highly reactive chemicals called free radicals.

Prevents iron deficiency anemia. Iron helps your body make hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells. This carries oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body. Your body also uses iron to make myoglobin, which is a protein that provides oxygen to your muscles. The iron found in kiwano and other plant sources is nonheme iron. It is absorbed better when you eat it with foods that contain vitamin C, which kiwano has as well.

Prevents loss of electrolytes. The electrolytes in kiwano help your cells function the way they should. Electrolytes, which are essential minerals such as calcium, sodium, and potassium, help your nerves and muscles perform. An imbalance of electrolytes can cause disruption in your normal body functions and lead to life-threatening conditions.

Protects your heart. Kiwano contains magnesium, which plays an important role in the function of your heart. Magnesium can help prevent and treat heart disease and regulate your blood pressure. Low magnesium levels have been associated with heart disease and heart failure.

Promotes healthy skin. Healthy skin has high levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps protect your skin against damage from the sun and may help minimize the damage from normal aging. It also helps your skin heal from wounds or burns. Eating more fruits and vegetables such as kiwano can help improve hyperpigmentation (skin darkening) from sun damage

Builds strong bones. The magnesium in kiwano can help promote healthy bones. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with osteopenia and fragile bones. Postmenopausal women who don't get enough magnesium can have more rapid bone loss or lower bone mineral density. 

Regulates blood sugar. Kiwano has a low glycemic index, which means it won't cause a spike in your blood sugar. Also, the magnesium in kiwano can help regulate blood sugar. People with low magnesium levels can have chronic complications from diabetes. Low magnesium has also been associated with insulin resistance, which is when your body doesn't use insulin effectively. Raising low levels of magnesium in people with diabetes helped them achieve better blood sugar control.

Protects your eyesight. The zinc in kiwano has been associated with a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration, which is an eye disease that can cause loss of vision. A study in the Netherlands showed that people who ate a diet high in zinc had a reduced risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

The outer rind of kiwano is thick and covered in spurs, so it may not look very edible at first glance. When it's ripe, the outside is orange. The flavor has been described as a mixture of a cucumber, zucchini, and kiwi fruit. As it ripens, it develops a banana flavor as well.  

If you want to eat it plain, you can simply cut it in half with a knife. You can squeeze the seeds out if you prefer, although they are edible and contain powerful antioxidants. If you want to leave the seeds in, just scoop the fruit out of the rind with a spoon. You can eat it plain or add it to a fruit salad.