Eating seasonal produce is a cost-effective way to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your meal plan. It's also a clever way to introduce yourself to new foods you may have never tried or even heard of — such as gourds.
Wait... You Can Eat Gourds?
Many people enjoy decorating with gourds in the late summer and early fall without even realizing it, but certain gourds make for delicious recipes. There are edible and inedible gourds — while you can eat certain gourds, many are too hard for eating and are used as decor instead.
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Gourds have a hard shell, so it can be difficult to cook them. If you're considering adding gourds to your shopping list, here is how to cook, prepare and eat gourds.
What Are Gourds, and Which Types Are Edible?
What actually are gourds? Aren't they just glorified squash vegetables? It turns out gourds provide a lot more than just decoration.
The gourd family consists of hundreds of species. Gourds are grown on vines and tend to have unusual shapes, colors and patterns. They range in size, though some varieties can weigh up to hundreds of pounds. Some gourds are edible, and some are not.
The origin stories of gourds vary: There is evidence of gourds being used in early civilizations across Africa, Asia, North America, South America and Australia, per the Chicago Botanic Garden, and some may have even floated across oceans to enter new countries, according to a February 2014 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Surprisingly, gourds are considered fruits," Julia Chebotar, a chef in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "They are larger with hard shells and belong to a flowering plant species called Cucurbitaceae. Some gourds include watermelon, field pumpkins, squash and calabash."
Gourds are in the plant family cucurbit, and these fruits have hard shells when mature, according to Desert Botanical Garden. Many are used for inedible purposes as the shell is hard and bitter, though a selection can be peeled, cooked and enjoyed.
Gourds You Can Eat and Not Eat
Some edible gourds include:
Some inedible gourds include:
- Apple gourd
- Baby bear pumpkin
- Angel wing
- Gooseneck gourd
Bottle gourds are edible but are associated with side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, upper gastrointestinal bleeding and low blood pressure, per a July 2015 case study in the World Journal of Emergency Medicine.
How to Cook Gourds
Cooking gourds can seem intimidating, but Chebotar breaks it down in this straightforward method.
Things You'll Need
Baking sheet or dish
1. Bake the Whole Gourd
How to cook a gourd depends on what type you're working with. When cooking gourds, you can start by softening the outer shell by baking the whole thing. Chebotar recommends a drizzle of olive oil at the bottom of the baking sheet or pan before placing the gourd on it.
Bake the gourd at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 50 minutes depending on the type and size of the gourd.
2. Remove the Outer Shell
Once the shell has softened and the gourd is cool enough to handle, remove the outer shell with a sharp knife.
Some people carefully peel the gourd's beautiful shell to use it as a bowl or decoration. It's not meant to be eaten and can be discarded or composted.
3. Scoop Out the Insides
Once the shell is removed, slice the gourd in half, revealing the spongy center. Then, scoop the spongy center that's usually filled with seeds.
4. Cube the Flesh
Use a sharp knife to chop or slice the flesh into the desired shape and size.
5. Cook the Flesh of the Gourd
The flesh of certain gourds is the edible part, and it may need to be cooked for longer once the shell is removed. Cook the pieces by boiling, steaming, roasting or baking them. They can also be incorporated into various recipes.
Chebotar recommends baking the pieces at 425 F for 20 to 30 minutes or until they are slightly browned.
Gourd Recipe Ideas
In the culinary world, what are gourds used for? What do they taste best in? Chebotar recommends the following gourd recipe ideas:
Squash recipes are the perfect introduction to eating gourds. Squash is low in fat and calories yet full of flavor. It's a versatile food that can be used in soups, stews, chilis and more. Roasted squash, maple-glazed squash and stuffed squash are all tasty ways to eat gourds.
Gourds like field pumpkin and calabash have very hard shells, but their edible fillings can be eaten in savory recipes similar to squash. The sweet flavor of pumpkin makes it a popular choice for baked goods like pumpkin pie and other desserts. Pumpkin seeds also make for a nutrient-rich snack.
Bottle gourds are especially popular in Indian dishes. It's a staple in some curry and dal recipes. In Chinese cuisine, bottle gourds are used in soups and stir-fries.
- Chicago Botanic Garden: "Gourds"
- Desert Botanical Garden: "A Gourd-geous Fall Harvest"
- World Journal of Emergency Medicine: "Bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) juice poisoning"
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "Transoceanic drift and the domestication of African bottle gourds in the Americas"