Gourd (plural gourds), also known as a cucurbit, is a generic term used to refer to fruits of the cucurbitaceae family. Though, it is generally used to refer to the edible fruits of the family, such as, cucumber, squash, luffa, pumpkin or melon, it is specifically used to refer to the inedible fruits of the Lagenaria and Cucurbita genres, the hard rinds are dried to make instruments, utensils and ornaments. A single fruit of the family is called a gourd, while a number of fruits of the same species or different species, but belonging to the cucurbitaceae family may be referred to as gourds. The edible varieties are better known as squashes.
The gourd family is one of the largest comprising 700 species and a hundred genera. The plants of the family are vines with coiled and climbing tendrils. The family is one of the most diverse plant families and its members exhibit a large range of differences in terms of their appearance. They vary greatly in their shapes and sizes. Some of them are extremely small, such as, the marble-sized Carribean jumbie pumpkin, while others, such as, the giant gourds, are about seven feet long! The largest fruits of the world are from this very family.
History of Culinary Usage of Gourds
Unlike many other fruits, the gourd has been used since historical times, not only for culinary purposes, but also for other purposes, such as, aesthetic and instrumental purposes. Cucurbits were used for thousands of years all over the world for culinary purpose, the Native Americans being one of its early users. The cultivation of the gourd dates back to 8,000 B.P. The hard shelled gourds are used for decorative purposes, while the soft shelled ones are used for culinary purposes. Pumpkins and squashes have a soft exterior, and therefore, they can be easily cut, peeled or cooked. The early users of the cucurbit, such as the Native Americans, made medicinal preparations from it.
The basic classification of gourds is broad and includes both the edible and inedible gourds. The categories are as mentioned below:
- Ornamentals ( cucurbita)- these are the very bright orange-colored gourds that bloom during the daytime. Egg gourd, orange gourd, spoon gourd, pear gourd, crown of thorns, and warted gourd are the some of the gourds that belong to this type. In the olden times, vessels, tools and musical instruments were made from these gourds.
- Lagenaria( hard shelled gourds)- these are white-blossomed large gourds which bloom at night. These gourds are green when on the vine and develop a hard shell in course of time, which is used for craft work. The Banana gourd, Cannon Ball , Basketball, Sennari, and Hercules Club are some of the popular gourds of this type.
- Luffas( spnge gourd) – these are yellow-colored gourds with easily removable shells. The interiors are fibrous and are used to make vegetable sponges which are used as bath and kitchen scrubbers. The juice of the gourds also finds usage in the treatment of jaundice.
Edible Gourd Types
Edible gourds are better known as squashes of which there are many varieties as described below:
- Eight Ball Squash- this is a fat and round squash which is similar in appearance and taste to the zucchini. This is a delectable summer squash with a nutty and buttery flavor. It is one of the best substitutes for zucchini in preparations which are ideally made using the latter. Eight ball squash is best suited for cooking by grilling as their fat and round forms enable them to remain on the grill steadily while being cooked, without falling off it. The seeds can be scooped out of the fruit which can be filled with a variety of fillings, such as scoops and dips.
- Decorative Squash- though called decorative, these brightly colored squashes which can be cut into different artistic shapes, serve purposes other than mere decoration. They are edible winter squashes and are used in the preparation of a number of dishes. Pumpkins are not only carved, but also used for making pies, soups and burgers and a number other dishes during special occasions. Calabash, baby boo, pumpkin, carnival squash and delicate squash are some of the members of this type of edible gourds.
- Delicata( Sweet Potato Sqaush) – this is a yellow colored elongated large squash that is available in all seasons. This squash smells like the pumpkin, and its fleshy yellow interior, also, bears marked resemblance to the pumpkin. Its taste, which resembles that of the sweet potato, has earned it the name, sweet potato. It is used alone or in combination with other squashes, like butternut squash in soups, and bakes, among other dishes.
- Fairy Tale Pumpkin- This round, flat, deeply-lobed,tender, sweet French heirloom squash is orange or mahogany brown in color. It is similar to the Cinderella pumpkin, but more deeply-ribbed. This pumpkin is used in the preparation of a number of dishes which include muffins, pies, soups and tartlets.
- Gold Ball Squash- this edible ornamental gourd is a hybrid of the gold zucchini and its usage is similar to that of zucchini. It is used in a variety of dips and salads. The fruit can also be cooked and the interior flesh scooped out after that to make room for another filling- probably that of butternut squash.
- Gold Nugget Squash- this intensely orange-colored squash is bland in taste. Therefore, a variety of seasonings are used in preparations made with it, to complement its weak flavor.
Nutrition Information and Health Benefits of Gourds
Among gourds, the bitter gourd and the bottle gourd are found to have properties which are beneficial to the human health. The bitter gourd is an excellent source of B vitamins B1, B2, B3, Vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc and dietary fiber. It is good source of iron. Broccoli, banana and spinach are found to have only half as much of beta-carotene, potassium or calcimum contained in the bitter gourd, which is also known as the bitter melon. It is found to be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes, toxemia, blood disorders, eye disorders, piles, psoriasis.
The bottle gourd is another gourd which has been attributed therapeutic benefits by Ayurvedic sciences. This low-fat and low-cholesterol fruit is recommended for heart health. It is known to have a soothing effect on stomach ulcers. It is a good source of vitamins B and C and one of the excellent sources of iron.
Though generally of good nutritive worth, the medicinal worth of gourds, as stated by practitioners of alternative medicine, needs to be established by the conventional medical studies.
Gourds are undisputedly the largest and heaviest fruits of the world. For a long time, the pumpkin and the suash have contested with each other for the title of the largest fruit in various competitions. According to a 2002 report, the largest pumpkin of the world happens to be a Manchester, New Hampshire one, which weighs an incredible 1337 pounds.