Mouse Melons

Kissin’ cousins to cucumbers, Mexican mouse melons pack a flavorful wallop despite their Lilliputian size.

| June/July 2005



A tiny melon from south of the border has been creating a buzz in the farmer’s markets. Its unique flavor, with hints of cucumber and green fava bean, its pest-free and rampant habit of growth, not to mention its huge productivity, all conspire to recommend this unusual vine to home gardeners looking for something new to add to their menus.

The melon’s most common name in Spanish is “sandíita” (little watermelon), but it has a slew of other monikers in local dialects and Native American languages, many of which translate as “mouse melon.” These colloquial names are not surprising because the fruits resemble superminiaturized watermelons, the perfect scale for a mouse-sized picnic.

The scientific name of this plant is Melothria scabra. It is native to Mexico and Central America, and was first described scientifically in 1866 by the French botanist Charles Victor Naudin. I should add in the same breath that Naudin’s Latin nomenclature for the melon is not engraved in stone because there is quite a bit of argument as to where this plant belongs by botanical classification, especially because it has very close relatives in Africa.

If botanists have been late in coming to terms with the mouse melon, Native American peoples have not. It has been a staple of Mexican and Central American diets since pre-Columbian times, hence its great array of names in indigenous languages. These people also use the melon in nonculinary ways, including in medicine, yet little of this information can be found in mainstream literature.

Few, if any, Mexican cookbooks written for North Americans include recipes on how to use mouse melons, yet seeds are readily available in the United States. Now is a good time for our cooks to catch up, especially vegetarian cooks looking for exciting, new ingredients.

Mouse melons are terrific in stir-fries; they can be pickled just like French gherkins, eaten raw in salads or put up like Polish dill pickles. They also can be chopped and added to salsas for extra texture and flavor.

6/16/2016 7:51:34 AM

When is the best time to harvest? Should I wait until they fall off the vine for the best taste? Pick them off the vine when they're 1" long, 1/2" thick, 2" long, specific color???

5/30/2016 2:39:22 PM

Just wondering how to pollinate these melons that I've planted in my greenhouse?

10/8/2015 2:58:39 PM

How long do they take to mature? Will they grow well in Zone 4?

6/26/2014 6:17:00 AM

I was looking for mouse melons while driving in India, but didn't find any.

heidi hunt_2
11/19/2007 9:12:18 AM

The photo of the melon is in the Image Gallery at the top right of the article.

11/17/2007 5:00:43 PM

Can you please place a photo of the Mouse Melons? No one seems to know what they look like here in the UK. Thanks M Kelly

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