Can you eat gourds, or are they just for decoration? In this guide, we’ll explore this autumnal fruit in more depth and show you how you can use them.
Gourds are an autumnal fruit, part of the Cucurbitaceae family — a family that contains several species and subspecies. Gourds are usually found in warm, tropical climates such as India and East Asia, and are primarily grown in China, India, Russia and hotter parts of the USA. In addition to being grown in warmer climates, gourds also require a long growing season in order to mature.
Gourds are among some of the oldest cultivated plants, being grown in South America as early as 9000BC. We also know that in 7000BC at least they were being grown Mexico.
While gourds are more widely used for culinary reasons in today’s society, they were often used for ornamental displays or more practical uses throughout history. For example, the Egyptians often used gourds as water bottles, while indigenous people of North America used them as storage containers or utensils.
The fruit boasts a distinctively unusual shape — thin at the top and wide at the bottom like a bottle. However, despite their well-documented ornamental usage, can you eat gourds? And if so, how? Let’s take a look.
Can You Eat Gourds?
The Cucurbitaceae family is host to a wide range of species and subspecies. For example, pumpkins are actually part of the Cucurbitaceae family, hence their similar appearance. There are hundreds of different species, some considered more edible than others. So yes — you can eat gourds.
Below, we’ll take a look at some examples of the most edible types of gourd:
- Bitter Gourd: Otherwise known as Momordica charantia, it’s best harvested when it’s green and when its texture is watery. While it is bitter, it can be used in stir-fries.
- Apple Gourd: Otherwise known as Praecitrullus fistulosus, this type of gourd is popular in Indian cuisine and often used in curries.
- Ridge Gourd: Otherwise known as Luffa acutangula, frying is one of the best ways to eat this type of gourd.
- Ash Gourd: Otherwise known as Benincasa hispida, the white flesh is edible and can be used in stir-fries.
- Spine Gourd: Otherwise known as Momordica dioica, this gourd can be used for frying and is packed full of fiber.
While some types of gourds are edible, other types are better suited for ornamental use. These types tend to have hard flesh and an unappealing taste, and are often used to create ornamental displays and other items such as birdhouses and loofah sponges.
If you want to use your gourds for ornamental use, consider drying them. You can dry gourds in three simple steps. If you’re not sure which to use, you could start with any of these gourds that are native to North America:
- Turban Squash (Cucurbita Maxima)
- Zucchini (Cucurbita Pepo)
- Butternut squash (Cucurbita Moschata)
- Acorn squash (Cucurbita Pepo var. Turbinata)
To make good use of your gourds, you should ensure that you use them to the best of your ability. Here are some tips to avoid waste when using gourds:
- Seeds: Eat the gourd seeds as a tasty snack, or replant them. Check before consumption if the gourd is considered edible.
- Compost: Prevent your leftover decorative gourds from going to landfill by composting them.
Gourds are a great option if you are looking for sustainable decor for your home, as they break down naturally in the environment. You could also opt for using decorative gourds over other ornaments such as electric window candles or inflatable items, that may not be as environmentally friendly in comparison.
Preparing a Gourd to Eat
If you’ve got your heart set on cooking with gourds, then we’ve got you covered. You can prepare a gourd to eat in several different ways. However, this largely depends on the type of gourd that you are preparing.
Below, we’ve detailed a very basic way to cook a gourd. However, you also have the option to be more creative and try mixing them in with stir fries and curries.
- Bake: Drizzle some olive oil on your baking sheet or pan and place the gourd onto it. Bake the gourd at 425°F for between 25-50 minutes. This will help to soften the shell.
- Remove shell: Once the outer shell of the gourd has softened, you can remove it with a sharp knife. You can throw the shell in the compost or use it for decorative purposes.
- Remove the gourd’s insides: Slice the gourd through the middle. Scoop put the center, which should feel spongy.
- Cook: Chop the flesh into pieces. Cook at 425°F for 20-30 minutes or until the pieces are slightly browned.
Alternatively, you can boil, steam or roast your gourds. They’re also great cooked into a curry.
While many gourds are edible, it is also important to note that some are inedible. Some species of gourd that are inedible include:
- Colocynths: (round green and striped)
- “Wild squash”: that have grown spontaneously
It is also better not to eat ornamental or bottle gourds. Many of these inedible gourds contain cucurbitacins, substances that are bitter and highly irritating that can lead to serious complications such as digestive pain, diarrhea or severe dehydration. Even cooking these inedible gourds will not destroy these substances. You should avoid them and always check whether your gourd is safe for consumption before proceeding.
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