Achocha: growing & caring for the Bolivian cucumber


For many years now, I have been growing various vegetables as a hobby in my spare time, which is what ultimately led me to studying horticulture. I find it fascinating to watch as plants grow from seed to fruit and to then finally be able to make use of the literal fruits of my labour.

Favourite fruit: Strawberries and cherries
Favourite vegetable: Potatoes, tomatoes and garlic

Achocha, also known as the Bolivian cucumber, is rarely found in supermarkets or gardens in the UK. Nevertheless, growing achocha plants here is fairly easy and the crop is very tasty.

young achocha cucumbers growing
Achocha plants grow quickly and can reach impressive heights [Photo: Ivabalk/]

Achocha plants (Cyclanthera pedata; Syn.: Momordica pedata) are mainly grown in South America, particularly in Peru, Ecuador and Argentina. However, because it is a relatively cold-tolerant climbing plant, it is pretty easy to grow your own in the UK. Read on to learn how to sow and care for achocha plants, as well as how to use the unique vegetables they produce.

Achocha: origin and properties

In addition to achocha and Bolivian cucumber, this juicy vegetable is also known as caigua, caihua, stuffing cucumber, slipper gourd, climbing cucumber and stuffing gourd. It belongs to the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) and is native to the Andes in South America. It is widely cultivated in Asia, Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and the previously mentioned countries.

Achocha are annual climbing plant vines that can reach a height of four to five metres. Achocha leaves are palmately lobed, consisting of five to seven leaflets that somewhat resemble those of a hemp plant (Cannabis). The leaflets have slightly toothed margins and taper to a point towards the end. The plant uses two or more tendrils to cling to climbing aids.

Stuffing gourds have both male and female flowers with a double perianth. They have five green-yellow petals that are quite small compared to other species in the gourd family. In contrast to the single female flowers, the male flowers grow in clusters that are 15 to 30 cm long. The ovoid, green achocha fruits are covered in soft spines and are often curved and clearly pointed at the end. They grow 5 – 15 cm long and become mostly hollow when mature. They contain several dark brown or black seeds. Achocha cucumbers can also be harvested when immature (about 5 cm long) and these fruits will be more like a cucumber with soft edible seeds and fleshy crisp pulp inside.

thin spiralling achocha plant tendril
Achocha plants use their tendrils to climb up supports [Photo: Stefan_Sutka/]

Growing and planting achocha

Achocha prefers sunny and warm locations. They need a humusy, well-drained, nutritious soil, as well as a steady water supply to thrive. Another possibility is to grow Cyclanthera pedata in a greenhouse. However, this is not absolutely necessary as achocha plants are quite cold-tolerant and it might be impractical given how tall they can grow. Achocha plants grow well in pots. Use a pot with a capacity of at least 10 litres per plant. Choose pots with drainages holes and place some gravel in the bottom to allow for excess water to drain. Fill the pots with a loose, nutrient-rich vegetable compost like our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost.

It is best to start achocha seeds indoors before planting outside. Here is how:

  • Time to sow indoors: middle/end of April
  • Fill seedling tray with sowing compost
  • Press the seeds about 2 cm deep into the soil
  • Keep constantly moist
  • Place the pots in a warm bright place
  • Germination temperature about 20 °C
  • Germination period approx. two – four weeks
  • Time to plant out: after the last frosts in mid-May
  • Provide a climbing aid when planting out

Can you save your own achocha seeds? Yes, you can collect the seeds for next year’s crop from your own caigua cucumbers. To do this, leave the fruits on the vine to fully mature before harvesting i.e., they must remain on the plant significantly longer than when harvesting the young fruits to eat.

achocha fruits sliced and displayed
Mature achocha fruits are rather hollow, making it is easy to collect the large black seeds [Photo: Luis Echeverri Urrea/]

How to care for achocha

When caring for caigua plants, it is important to provide them with enough nutrients and water. Keep reading to find out how to care for achocha properly.

Fertilising achocha

Since caigua are heavy feeders, they need enough nutrients for healthy growth and a bountiful yield. When planting, mix some mature compost into the soil to ensure a sufficient supply of nutrients. Later in the plant’s life, feed your achocha with a primarily organic slow-release fertiliser. Our Plantura Tomato Food is a good choice for this because it contains a lot of potassium, which helps with fruiting. As the fertiliser has a long-term effect of three months, only two fertiliser applications are necessary during the achocha cucumber season.

Tomato Food, 1.5kg
Tomato Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for tomatoes, chillies, courgettes, cucumber & more
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Watering achocha

Achocha plants need a lot of water, so make sure to water them regularly to avoid the soil drying out. As soon as the top layer of soil has dried out, water again. But keep in mind that waterlogging is just as undesirable as dryness.

Supporting achocha

Additionally, check whether the climbing support is sufficient from time to time. If necessary, guide the vines upwards by hand since they vines grow very quickly and get rather long.

Are achocha plants hardy?

Cyclanthera pedata is actually quite hardy, with a cold tolerance that allows it to grow in temperatures just above 0 °C. The climbing cucumber can even withstand temperatures as low as -5 °C for short periods. However, it will mostly likely not survive the winter due to low temperatures and frosts.

Harvesting achocha cucumbers: when is the right time?

The proper harvest time depends entirely on what you want to do with your stuffing gourds. The young fruits can be harvested from July. But, if you need fully ripe fruits, you will have to wait until the end of August. If the climbing cucumbers are ripe when picked, remove the hard seeds before eating or processing them further.

Achocha benefits and uses

Several studies have found that achocha plants have beneficial medicinal properties for our health. In fact, every part of the achocha plant is said to have healing effects: for example, the leaves are used to make anti-inflammatory ointments, and drinking concoctions made from the fruit promotes blood purification and detoxification. Achocha seeds can also be ground into a tea that helps lower high blood pressure. The unusual gourd is also said to help with digestive issues and high cholesterol.

achocha plant leaf close up
Every part of the achocha plant provides health benefits [Photo: btwcapture/]

Achocha plants are also very versatile in the kitchen. The various parts of the plant all have different uses. The young shoots and leaves are delicious in soups, salads, and smoothies. The young fruits are typically eaten raw, but they can also be pickled, fried, sautéed and baked. The mature fruits are also great for cooking with, just remove the seeds first. There are a lot of achocha recipes for stuffing the hollow fruits, such as cream cheese, minced meat or rice – the possibilities are endless! If the skin has spines, they can be rubbed off when raw, but they soften anyways when cooking or steaming. Since achocha tolerates cold temperatures well, the fruits can be stored in the refrigerator after harvesting. It is nevertheless important to process the harvested fruits within 10 days since they do not keep or store for very long.

What does achocha taste like? when eaten raw, immature achocha cucumbers taste very similar to cucumbers (Cucumis). When prepared in another way, such as fried, grilled or steamed, the flavour is comparable to that of a courgette (Cucurbita pepo subsp. pepo).

cooked achocha vegetable dish
Achocha fruits can used in many ways in the kitchen [Photo: Hober Mendoza/]

Are achocha plants poisonous or edible?

Achocha is not poisonous. In fact, they are rather delicious. When harvested young, it can be eaten raw like a cucumber. Later, they can be prepared like courgettes – just remove the achocha seeds because they will be very hard. Even the leaves and young tendrils of the plant are edible both raw and cooked.

The bitter gourd (Momordica charantia), also known as karela, is another vegetable from the cucurbit family that is uncommon in the UK. Discover more about this unusual gourd in our other article.

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