Sechium acerbus, known as the lemon melon or loeto (High Thap pronunciation: /lɤ̀tʰó/) is a fruit-bearing plant in the gourd family. It is native to Lahan, where it has been cultivated for centuries for its edible fruit. Like its close relative, the chayote, it is very high in vitamin C.
|Lemon melon, loeto|
The common name loeto, from High Thap lòùthó, is of uncertain origin. Connections have been proposed to the [proto substrate] word *mitsa 'sour,' which may also be the source of the same term in many Thap langauges (mápá, mípis, nútus).
Many other indigenous names for the plant and its fruit exist, often a variation on the word for chayote.
Loeto is a vining plant that is typically grown on arbors for commercial harvest, although it can grow on any verticals support or horizontal surface. It can grow up to 20 meters or longer when supported by vegetation, cliffsides, or tall buildings. The vine becomes woody with age but the shoots and stems of young plants are soft and herbaceous.
The lemon melon comes in a variety of cultivars, but most grow a small gourd of about 6 to 12 centimeters in length. The various cultivars produce fruits in pear, egg, and melon shapes, which typically have glossy, smooth yellow skin. Some varieties also come in variegated green, like a pale watermelon, and may have a mottled or bumpy texture. The flesh fades from pale yellow or green near the skin to stark white in the centre; it is crisp, with a high water content. Each fruit contains one 'pea,' a soft, flat, pale seed with a firm, bright green seed coat.
When overripe, the white flesh turns grey, then reddish-black, and goes mushy.
As the name 'lemon melon' suggests, the fruit is very sour, especially the skin.
Cultivars and hybrids have been developed to produce a sweeter fruit.
Most parts of the loeto plant are edible, including the young stems and leaves, the tubers, the flowers, and the seed. The leaves and stems are cooked as greens or used raw as a mildly sour herb, reminiscent of sorrel. The seed is less sour, and sweeter, but also somewhat bitter.
The fruit, sometimes called a pear or melon, can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw, the texture is refreshingly crisp and juicy; as it cooks, it softens, becoming jelly-like and grainy. It is very tart, comparable to lemon (hence its common name), with notes of cucumber and snap peas. The sour flavour is even more pronounced in the skin, to an extent that is unpalatable to many, so these are typically removed. When underripe, its flavour is milder. At the height of ripeness it has a mild sweetness, similar to a green pea, but this is greatly overshadowed by the sour notes. Additionally, as the melon ages it can become noticeably bitter.
Lemon melons are occasionally eaten unprepared straight from the vine by those with a fondness for tart flavours. More frequently, the raw melon is also used in salads, fruit salads, and salsas, or as a curing and flavouring agent in raw meat dishes such as ceviche. It can be juiced or macerated to be used in sauces, desserts, and beverages, including a lemonade-like drink called záltókórųį (Jayun Thap: /zǽltʰókóɹɯ̰/ 'loeto juice'), or kept as an additive and used in a similar fashion to lemon juice or tamarind. The highly sour peel can be preserved, candied, or zested.
A popular snack food in Thúyo, cáhį íkwá (/t͡ʃä́hɪ̰‿jíkwä́/ 'three flavours'), features the super-sour rind. It is a simple dish where thin ribbons of the skin are lightly coated in large-grain salt and sugar. A variant dish, cáñí íkwá ('four flavours'), incorporates piquant spices. Roadside vendors selling fresh záltókórųį often keep the peels on-hand and sell cáhį íkwá as a cheap snack to schoolchildren. The dish must be eaten fresh or the texture will begin to degrade. A commercial, shelf-stable version, made of candied preserved peels, is also available in shops.
Distribution and habitat
It lives on Lahan and may have also been imported elsewhere.