Coccinia grandis: Cucumber’s Versatile Kin
I was riding my motorcycle one day when I rumbled over a raised railroad track in an industrial area and to my immediate right above a greenery-covered security fence I caught a glimpse of what I thought looked like Turk’s Cap blossoms, but not quite. Turk’s Caps is a bushy mallow that doesn’t grow too tall and I had to look up to see these “blossoms.”
I turned around, parked, and wandered over for a closer inspection while a few workers wondered why a motorcyclist was looking at a plant. The blossoms were not Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus penduliflorus, which tend to stay closed taking the shape of a seashell called an Olive. No, these weren’t even blossoms. They were red fruit, ovoid to ellipsoid, about two inches long, 3/4 an inch wide through the middle. I had never seen them before. Nearby were several green ones with white stripes end to end. The large blossoms were five petaled and white. The key, however, was the vine. It looked like a cucumber.
It took some digging but I found it, Coccinia grandis. There was no doubt I had the right plant. As is too often the case, the United States Department of Agriculture maps said it did not grow here… That further confirmed to me I had the right plant. (If you have studied USDA maps you know exactly what I mean. They are inaccurate and woefully out of date.)
Called Ivy Gourd, Scarlet Gourd, Thai spinach, Kovai, Tindora (and a host of other names) the young leaves and slender tops of the stems are cooked and eaten as a potherb, in soups, or as a side dish, often with rice. The young and tender green fruits are eaten raw in salads, or boiled, steamed, fried, added to dishes like curry or soups or even fermented. The ripe, scarlet fruit is fleshy, on the sweet side, and eaten raw. It can also be candied. The fruit is often available in speciality markets and is very common in India. There are two varieties, both bitter and sweet (with no visible differences) and several cultivars both bitter and sweet. A second species, C. quinqueloba, has leaves that are edible cooked, often with Bidens pilosa, an old standby for foragers. The fruits of the Coccinia rehmannii are edible and its starchy tuber is eaten after roasting. The leaves of Coccinia trilobata are a famine food. With the bitter ones usually only the young leaves and tips are used.
The green fruit of the C. grandis resembles a small, smooth pointed cucumber or long little watermelon. It is packed with seeds inside and while the skin is not tough but has just a little more resistant than a cucumber. The fruit grows red from the inside out. It is possible to have it reddish on the inside and not yet red on the outside. When green it is ever so slightly sour very much like a Melothria pendula, another wild member of the cucumber clan. When fully ripe it gets very soft.
Said kok-SIN-ee-uh GRAN-dees, (Big Red) the plant in the lab has shown anti-oxidant, anti-triglyceride, and anti-bacterial activity and is useful in the treatment of jaundice. It’s also been used to treat abscesses and high blood pressure. C. grandis has been introduced as a food crop in several countries in Asia, as well as Australia, Pacific Islands, Africa, the Caribbean, and the southern United States. It is found it at least Florida, Texas and Hawaii and probably other unreported warm areas.
Ivy Gourd is high in beta-carotene, has vitamins A and C, but low on the glycemic index. Per 100 g edible portion, the fruits contain: water 93.5 g, energy 75 kJ (18 kcal), protein 1.2 g, fat 0.1 g, carbohydrate 3.1 g, fiber 1.6 g, Ca 40 mg, P 30 mg, Fe 1.4 mg, thiamin 0.07mg, riboflavin 0.08 mg, niacin 0.7 mg, ascorbic acid 1.4 mg. See recipe on bottom and my video.
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: C. grandis: Stems mostly hairless, green and longitudinally ribbed when young, becoming white-spotted when older and eventually woody, tendrils simple, in the axils. Leaves alternate, simple, broad, ovate, 5-lobed, heart-shaped, stem has 3-8 glands near the base; inflorescence usually solitary, axillary flowers. Corolla deeply divided into 5 lobes. Stamens 3, present as staminodes in female flowers. Fruit a smooth, striped green turning bright red, ovoid to ellipsoid about two inches long.
TIME OF YEAR: Can produce year round
ENVIRONMENT: Agricultural areas, natural forests, planted forests, disturbed and waste areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves and slender tops of the stems are cooked and eaten as a potherb, in soups, or as a side dish, often with rice. The young and tender green fruits are eaten raw in salads, or boiled, steamed, fried, added to dishes like curry or soups or even fermented. The ripe, scarlet fruit, is fleshy, on the sweet side, and eaten raw. It can also be candied
Recipe courtesy of Show Me The Curry.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: Approx 20-25 minutes
Tindora – approx 1 1/2 lbs, sliced
Oil – 1 Tbsp
Mustard Seeds – 1/2 tsp
Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp
Asofoetida (Hing) – pinch
Turmeric Powder – 1/4 tsp
Green Chilies – to taste, finely chopped
Coriander Powder – 1 tsp
Cumin Powder – 1/2 tsp
Red Chili Powder – to taste
Salt – to taste
1. Heat Oil in a medium non-stick pan on medium heat.
2. Add Mustard Seeds and allow them to pop.
3. Add Cumin Seeds and let them sizzle.
4. Add Asofoetida, Turmeric Powder, Green Chilies and Tindora. Mix well.
5. Add Salt, Red Chili Powder, Coriander Powder and Cumin Powder.
6. Mix well, cover and cook until Tindora are tender. Stir every few minutes to cook evenly and prevent burning.
7. When Tindora are tender, uncover and cook for an additional few minutes to lightly brown them.
1. In a time crunch, use the slicer blade of your food processor to roughly chop/slice the tindora.
2. Cleaned and cut Tindora freeze well.
3. Be careful when salting Tindora. They tend to shrink and become a little salty and tangy.