The stem of Cucumeropsisedulis (Egusiitoo in Yoruba; the common name in English is the white melon seed) is light-green and hairy.
The leaves are characteristically cucurbitaceous: alternate, cordate base, five-lobed, toothed margin but, for this species, the veins are spectacularly deep. The stem is angular, sparsely hairy; the tendrils are simple and coiled. The fruit is yellowish-green and spherically-elongated.
The flowers are rather small, yellow and pentamerous with joined sepals and free petals in both sexes. Two of the stamens have bilobed anthers; the third is one-lobed.
The fruit is an ellipsoid to obovoid berry, about18-25 cm long; it is green to pale-yellow or creamy-white in colour. This species is synonymous with Cucumeropsismannii.
In Yorubaland, the seeds of C. edulis is used in the preparation of egusi soup; they can be fried and eaten as snacks and when the oil is extracted, the seeds can be ground up into a paste which is added to bean paste and cooked into a delicacy called jogiigbalo which is rich in protein.
When fermented, the seeds are processed into ogiri, a spice which maintains its own class among other fermented products like locust bean (iru), other melons and soya bean. Egusiitoo is primarily grown for the oily seeds it produces. It has been stated that the seeds can be shelled and consumed as a snack which, in flavour, resembles groundnut.
In Northern Ghana, egusi oil is the second most prominent cooking oil. The kernel of the egusiitoo seed contains semi-drying oils which can be used for making soaps, cooking and for illumination; the rest of the seed is fed to livestock.
The flesh of Cucumeropsisedulis is edible but is not commonly consumed due to its bitter taste. In some countries such as Ghana, the juice of the fruit is used as a healing ointment.
The kernel of the egusi-itoo seed is 44 per cent oil, 30 per cent protein, 10 per cent carbohydrate, four per cent ash and three per cent fibre. The oil of this seed is 64.9 per cent linoleic acid, 12.4 per cent oleic acid, 11.8 per cent stearic acid and 10.9 per cent palmitic acid. Vitamins like Thiamin, Niacin, B1 and B2 are also prevalent in the seed as well as many micronutrients.
Phosphorus is the largest mineral component, while potassium, magnesium, manganese, sulphur, calcium, iron and zinc follow. The bulk of carbohydrates are starch and soluble sugars.
Egusiitoo is the perfect complement to the largely starch-rich grain diet of Africa, providing a high-protein and high-energy concentrate. The seed contains every important macro- and micro-nutrient in quantities ideal for nutrition.
The amino acid content of egusiitoo proteins makes it a sufficient vegetable protein. This composition is ideal for sick and growing bodies, providing essential amino acids and calories.
Just 100g of the seed daily, provides essential fatty acid, amino acid and Vitamin E requirements. There is potential for these seeds as a critical tool for interventions in diseases such as marasmus and kwashiorkor.
Oil makes up 44 per cent of the seed, where 30 per cent is protein-rich in essential amino acids. The seed is an excellent vegetable protein and is ideal for battling nutritional debilitations.
In a research carried out in Burkina Faso titled ‘Nutritional potentials of Cucumeropsisedulis seeds and pulp of Adansoniadigitata (African baobab tree), determination of chemical composition and functional properties’ by Savadogo et al., the conclusions are that Adansoniadigitatapulp and Cucumeropsisedulis seeds contain essential nutrients for human health.
The Adansoniadigitata pulp is an important food containing tartaric acid, ascorbic acid, citric acid and malic acid. Different monomeric sugars such as raffinose, galactose, sucrose, glucose and fructose were identified in Adansonia pulp.
The study revealed the potential of Cucumeropsisedulis seeds as source of proteins, lipids, calcium and magnesium. It is therefore necessary to encourage their production for their nutritive and phytochemical values.
In Ghana, the fruit juice mixed with other ingredients is applied to the navel of newborn babies to accelerate the healing process until the cord-relics drop off. Macerated leaves are used in Gabon for purging constipated suckling babies. In Sierra Leone, cattle boys traditionally use the dried fruit-shells of an egusiitoo type with small elongated fruits as a warning horn.
In a research titled ‘Phenolic extracts and amino acids content from Cucumeropsismannii (egusiitoo) and Citrulluslanatus(water melon) seeds inhibit relevant enzymes of erectile dysfunction in rat’s penile tissue’ by Tajudeen O. Jimoh et al., fresh samples of these plants (egusiitoo and water melon seeds) were purchased from the ancient Oja Oba market in Owo Kingdom, Ondo State Nigeria.
The seed samples were authenticated at the Department of Plant Science and Biotechnology Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti (EKSU) Nigeria and voucher specimens were lodged in their Herbarium. The seeds were washed under running tap, shelled and sun-dried before being powdered for aqueous extraction.
The highlights of the results of this research established the erecto-genic potentials of the two pumpkin seeds. The antioxidant properties of these seed varieties were also established.
The inhibitory effects of the seeds on key enzymes relevant to erectile dysfunction (ED) were critically explored. The potentials of the seeds to manage erectile dysfunction were recommended.
The conclusion of the study is that the two seeds have erecto-genic potentials and their erectile-promoting benefit could be proposed to be a function of their phyto-chemical constituents. This is good news for men with erectile dysfunction!
According to another article titled, ‘Lesser known Nigerian edible oils and fats -itoo seed oil’ by Pamela Girgis et al.
in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture Volume 20, Issue 3, March 1968, the seeds of Cucumeropsisedulis, family Cucurbitaceae were reported to be a common component of the average Nigerian diet and a rich source of oil.
This study shows the oil to be very suitable for edible purposes, since it possesses good keeping qualities and has a high content of linoleic and oleic acids, which together make up about 64 per cent of its total fatty acid content.
Despite the obvious advantages of the crop, Cucumeropsisedulis remains an underutilised tool for nutritional intervention in Africa.
So are the other Cucurbits in terms of their uses as leafy vegetables or their fruits and seeds as sources of medicines or as supplemental or main food. Unfortunately, Citrulluslanatus (water melon) which originated in the Kalahari desert in Africa is overrunning the landscape in Nigeria, intimidating the original Cucurbits which have been used as food and sources of medicines for ages.
The key to the preservation of genetic resources is utilisation; underutilisation is the road to genetic erosion.
The route to advocacy is this kind of effort to popularise the food and medicinal benefits of our indigenous plant resources and make them available for people who may want to grow them for utilisation.