The melon crop scientifically known as “cucumis momi” and locally known as the egusi, has hairs on all of its organs, but the fruits are spherical, smooth and weigh up to 5 kg. The egusi plant looks so much like a watermelon plant that most botanists think it is one. However on the inside the egusi fruit is neither red, nor luscious, nor sweet. Indeed, it is white and dry and bitter enough to be repulsive.The seeds are eaten in various forms. Egusi is grown for its seeds, which resemble large, white, melon seeds.Generally, the production of egusi is not great because of extensive cultivation methods. This has led to a limited supply of egusi, driving up prices in the urban market centers.
The egusi plant is also easy to grow. It is extremely resilient to pests and diseases and because it blankets the ground as it grows, it can help suppress weeds. Because of this, farmers often intercrop egusi with other crops, including sorghum, cassava, coffee, cotton, maize, or bananas. Mature egusi melons can also remain in the field for a long time without rotting, so crop loss and waste is rare. And once the seeds are harvested, they can be a reliable year-round food source.
In West Africa, a region where soups are integral to life, they are a major soup ingredient and a common component of daily meals. Coarsely ground up, they thicken stews and contribute to widely enjoyed steamed dumplings. Some are soaked, fermented, boiled, and wrapped in leaves to form a favorite food seasoning. Families in Cameroon can eat the crop year-round and it is in high demand from countries in the Central African sub-region and Nigeria.
Egusi is very high in nutritional value. It is rich in protein, fat and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C.
It is made up of 30 – 40 % protein, and about the same proportion of oil.
The oil is cholesterol free.
In terms of vitamins, it contains alpha-tocopherol, a component of vitamin E.
It also contains palmitic, stearic, linoleic and oleic acids and very small amount of carbohydrate and calcium.
78 % of the fat is unsaturated fatty acid, which is protective to the heart.
The alpha-tocopherol found in egusi is a component of vitamin E that helps in maintaining smooth young skin and good fertility.
It also contains palmitic, stearic, linoleic and oleic acids important in protecting the heart.
The egusi can also be an important supplementary baby food, helping prevent malnutrition.
Blending the seeds with water and honey produces a milky liquid that can be used as formula if breast milk is unavailable.