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The pepino dulce1 (Solanum muricatum) is a common fruit in the markets of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. It comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and qualities. Many are exotically colored in bright yellow set off with jagged purple streaks. Most are about as big as goose eggs; some are bigger. Inside, they are somewhat like honeydew melons: watery and pleasantly flavored, but normally not overly sweet.2

Despite the fact that South Americans enjoy this fruit, there seems to be a curious lack of awareness for its commercial possibilities elsewhere. Although pepinos are related to, and grown like, tomatoes, they nevertheless remain a little-known crop, and their various forms are currently unexplored and underexploited.

This plant's obscurity may not last much longer. In Chile, New Zealand, and California, the pepino (pronounced peh-pee-noh) is beginning to be produced under the most modern and scientifically controlled conditions. As a result, international markets are opening up. For example, the fruit has recently been successfully introduced to up-scale markets in Europe, Japan, and the United States.

In Japan, consumers have an insatiable appetite for pepinos, and in recent years they have bought them at prices among the highest paid for any fruit in the world. Pepinos are offered as desserts, as gifts, and as showpieces. Often they are individually wrapped, boxed, and tied with ribbons. Some trendy stores display pepinos whether they sell or not.

Its success in Japan is perhaps an indication of its future: the pepino is attractive, it has a good shelf life, it is tasty, and its shape and compact size are ideal for marketing.

1 In Spanish, “pepino dulce” means “sweet cucumber.” Regrettably, the shortened name “pepino” is becoming the common name for this fruit in English, for in Spanish “pepino” refers only to the cucumber. This fruit, however, is botanically related to tomatoes and is nothing like a cucumber.
2 Cieza de León, the Spanish chronicler of the Incas, related that “in truth, a man needs to eat many before he loses his taste for them.”

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