Story originally published in 2008.
What the heck is it?! Scientists call it Momordica Cochinchinensis from the family, Cucurbitaceae. Common name is Monordica. Vietnamese call it G?c. We call it the funky, spiky, orange thing-y. To make it even more cool, but confusing, it’s related to cucumbers!! This amazing specimen of a fruit looks like a blast from the pre-historic, dinosaur age past. If displayed in the Smithsonian science museum and exhibited as “orange yada-yada-saurus dinosaur egg”, visitors probably wouldn’t doubt it’s credibility. But if labeled as “first course” on the dinner table, diners just might call the Chef crazy. So is it an animal, vegetable or mineral? Depending on how this orange thing-y is de-constructed, it could fall into all 3 categories.
As a vegetative specimen, Monordica boasts brilliant hues starting from green on the vigorous growing vine, to yellow, to orange to a bright red when fully ripe. The densely spiked exterior skin looks untouchable at first, but after petting it, the firm, prickly spikes don’t bite back or pose a threat.
Upon cross section, the fleshy rind encases a hollow center filled with round, flat, fleshy, membranous discs. Inside the discs are the hidden jewels: a hard, flat, plastic-like black seed that has grooved etchings similar to that of a turtle shell. Like an animal’s interiors, the guts of this peculiar fruit bleed a crimson red, thick juice and the rest of the enclosed membrane and discs feels like soft, slippery, fleshy offal sliding through the fingers. To top it all off, it’s not even eaten as a fruit!
Though it’s not a naturally occurring substance formed from a geologic process, it could be considered a mineral because of it’s specific red chemical composition (this could be stretching the definition a bit, but we’re trying to complete our analogy). This fruit has relatively little flavor (maybe slightly grassy like) to no flavor and sweetness at all (although some claim to tasting a slight nuttiness). In Northern Vietnam, Monordica flesh is used primarily for it’s rich, red hues as a food coloring for a sweet, sticky rice dish known as “Xoi G?c”. The bright red/orange coloring of the Xoi G?c rice make it visually spectacular amongst the standard muted colors of other sticky rice dishes. When asked amongst die hard Xoi G?c addicts (Dad) to describe the flavor appeal , he answers as “tastes like sweet sticky rice”. So pops, “If you were color-blind would you know the difference?”. He answers as , “tastes like sweet sticky rice”.
Outside the Vietnamese culinary use, the pharmaceutical industry has found Monorica to be chemical rich in Beta Carotene and other vital anti-oxidant properties. It’s contribution to science seems extraordinary, making it even more appealing. So we’re planning on growing it next summer to share the love and curiosity of this spectacular looking fruit. That’s why we love G?c, Monordica or like we call it: the funky, spiky, orange thin-y.
Other great resources:
*Note- This site references the Viet name for this fruit as “Gac”, instead of “Guc”. We are not sure of the accuracy of “Gac” because all references that we’ve found refers to Monordica as “Guc”.