Honey, I Shrunk the Watermelon!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the increasing popularity of mini-cattle among budget-conscious farmers, and expressed my personal reservations about eating something so petite and adorable. I have no such compunctions, however, about the Pepquiño, a newly available fruit that resembles a tiny watermelon. At about an inch long, it looks like something from a Rick Moranis movie, or what Malibu Barbie might serve at a beach bash.
In fact, it is neither an underdeveloped melon nor the freakish product of a mad scientist. According to Nicolas Mazard, the manager of the American arm of the Dutch company Koppert Cress, which grows and markets the Pepquiño, it is the fruit of an ancient South American plant that is similar to a cucumber (cucumbers and melons belong to the same plant family). Mazard says they are good tossed on a salad, as a snack, or in a stir-fry.
The fruit is grown in the company's Long Island greenhouse, along with a number of other rare and unusual "micro-vegetables," and is currently used mostly by high-end New York City restaurants; however, the company is in talks with retailers, such as Whole Foods, to make its products available to consumers.
Mazard sent me a sample of Pepquiños. They were crunchy on the outside, although the skin was thin enough to be thoroughly edible. The small, tender seeds inside made the center a little squishy, but in a pleasant way—something like the juicy burst you'd experience eating a cherry tomato or a grape. The flavor was very similar to a cucumber, but had a little bit of sourness and a slight sweetness.
The company got its start in 1987 in the Netherlands but, according to its Web site, found success after Rob Baan took over the company, and renamed it Koppert Cress, in 2002. Baan had spent decades traveling the world while working in development and marketing for the Dutch seed company Syngenta. In his travels he encountered rare and intriguing ingredients used in the cuisines of other cultures, and some of those have become the basis for the company's product line.
According to an article by David Elay in The Financial Times (republished on the blog A Good Nose), Koppert Cress's products are favored by top chefs, including Ferran Adria, of the famed El Bulli restaurant in Spain, who described Baan as "the Christopher Columbus of vegetables."
Let's see, traveling the world, seeking out rare and exotic foods—now, how do I get a job like that?