Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


(Sicana odorifera)

by Scott Sheu

The cassabanana is a unique, melon-like fruit that belongs in the gourd family. Its Latin name, Sicana odorifera, derives from its strong, melon-like fragrance.

Origin and Distribution

The cassabanana is believed to have originated in Brazil, but be found in lowland, tropical locales ranging from Mexico down to Brazil and out in to the Caribbean Islands. The plant has never been documented growing in the wild; it was first written about by Europeans in 1688, when they recorded that the plant was popularly cultivated in Peru (Janick & Paull 308). Since then, the plant has ironically become less widely popular and is not grown or sold on a large-scale. Instead, cassabananas are normally purchased at roadside stands and small markets. There are no commercial producers of the cassabanana in the United States, though the fruit enjoys some popularity among the Cajuns in southern Louisiana (NewCROP).

Gastronomical Usage

The fruit can be eaten raw and is especially popular during the summer because of its cooling qualities. When served raw, the yellow-orange flesh is usually sliced thin or lightly sweetened because of its sharp flavor. The cassabanana’s most popular usage is in preserves. The unripened fruit is also commonly treated like a vegetable and put into soups and stews.

Other Uses

In Puerto Rico, a fermented liquor used to relieve throat ailments is made using the flesh, water, and sugar. Brazilians use a seed infusion to treat fevers and intestinal worms, while the leaves are used for venereal diseases and uterine hemorrhage (NewCROP). Natives of the Yucatan utilize the cassabanana by concocting a mixture of the leaves and flowers for use as a laxative.

The fruit is additionally grown as an ornamental; it is placed on church altars and its seeds are worn around the neck. Because of its fragrant smell, cassabanana fruits and flowers are sometimes placed in rooms and closets to perfume linens and clothes. The fragrance is also believed to repel moths.

Botanical Description

The cassabanana grows on quick-growing vines that can reach up to 15 meters high. The leaves are heart-shaped, hairy, and can grow up to 30 cm wide. Additionally, they have four-parted tendrils that are adept at grasping and climbing onto nearly any surface.

The fruit itself has a glossy, thick shell whose coloring varies from orange-red to dark purple. It is typically 20 to 24 inches long and five inches thick. The pale yellow to orange flesh of the cassabanana has been described as “cantaloupe-like” and is juicy. Like the cantaloupe, the cassabanana has flat, oval seeds in its middle and are contained by a soft, pulpy core.



"Cassabanana." NewCROP. Purdue University, Mar. 1999. Web.

Cucurbitaceae & The Cucurbit Network. May 2004. Web.

Janick, Jules and Robert E. Paull. The Encyclopedia of Fruit & Nuts. Cambridge, MA: CABI, 2008.