The herbaceous fruit used as a vegetable and called cyclanthera pedata-Kaywa by the Quechua people in the Andes, (pronounced Kai-a-wa) and, Hispanicized into Caigua, can be used as a cucumber substitute.
The plant has been in use for several centuries as evidenced by the ancient Peruvian ceramics of the Moche Culture 100AD-800AD in this piece at the Larco Museum.
Caigua’s habitat and distribution has it growing in many parts of Central and South America, particularly in the Andes. This domesticated plant found on Caribbean Islands, in Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico, is popular in eastern countries such as North-Eastern India, Bhutan and Nepal. The climbing vine mainly thrives in warm, moist climates but has a good tolerance for colder conditions, growing at elevations up to 2000 meters (6,561 feet) above sea level.
Virtually all of the Caigua plant may be used; whether eaten raw or cooked, immature fully grown Caigua may be pickled, its leaves and young shoots eaten as green vegetables, or prepared in salads, and the roots sometimes used like a toothbrush.
Health Benefits of Caigua:
• Consuming Caigua is effective in reducing blood cholesterol levels.
• In Peru, considered one of the most powerful and natural fat absorbers it is sometimes combined with Hercampuri, a Peruvian herb. It cleans the blood, reduces cellulite and helps rejuvenate and revitalize.
• Caigua is often consumed as a dehydrated powder and is a powerful tool to control obesity, maintain a healthy weight and control high blood pressure. It effectively regulates the metabolism of sugar and lipids in the blood.
• Caigua cures varicose veins, also helps in healing stomach, kidney and liver pains.
• It has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
• Due to its low calorie content, it is popular with people who are on a diet.
It is the Stuffing That Makes the Meal!
Having seen Caigua prepared only one way, I will say the Traditional recipe is: Ground-beef, raisins, and pieces of black olives, along with any seasoning one may desire. I am not a huge olive fan except for olive oil, so in the version pictured, I omitted the olives. Alone Caigua has a very subtle mild taste, especially boiled or steamed. That is why the stuffing makes the meal. Whether carnivorous, or a vegetarian, a myriad of stuffing’s could be achieved; dream it and it can be done. Lightly steamed Caigua and delicious, succulent shrimp scampi should do the trick next time.