Types of Gourds That Are Edible, and How to Cook Them

Gourds can be peeled and cooked in a variety of recipes, such as stuffed squash, curries and pumpkin pie.
Image Credit: Teleginatania/iStock/Getty Images

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.

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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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Since gourds have a hard shell, it can be difficult to cook them. For best results, ensure your gourds are the edible variety and utilize the proper method of preparation. If you're considering adding gourds to your shopping list, here is how to cook, prepare and eat gourds.

What Are Gourds?

The gourd family consists of hundreds of species. Gourds are grown on vines and tend to have unusual shapes, colors and patterns. Gourds range in size, though some varieties can weigh up to hundreds of pounds.

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The origin story of gourds is a mystery, though there is evidence of gourds being used in early civilizations across Africa, Asia, North America, South America and Australia, per the Chicago Botanic Garden.

"Surprisingly, gourds are considered fruits," Julia Chebotar, a chef in New York City, told 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."

A gourd is a cucurbit whose fruits have a hard shell 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.

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Some edible gourds include:

  • Acorn squash
  • Watermelon
  • Field pumpkin
  • Calabash (bottle gourd)
  • Butternut squash

Some inedible gourds include:

  • Apple gourd
  • Baby bear pumpkin
  • Angel wing
  • Gooseneck gourd

Some gourds, such as bitter melon, are edible but are associated with many side effects. Its juices can be poisonous to humans, according to a July 2015 case study in the World Journal of Emergency Medicine.

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How to Cook Gourds

Cooking gourds can be intimidating, but Chebotar breaks it down in this easy-to-follow method.

Things You'll Need

  • Sharp knife

  • Cutting board

  • Baking sheet or dish

  • Olive oil

Step 1: Bake the Whole Gourd

Cooking gourds depends on the type. To cook most gourds, start by softening the outer shell by baking the whole gourd. 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.

Step 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.

Step 3: Scoop Out the Insides

Once the shell is removed, scoop the spongy center that is usually filled with seeds.

Step 4: Cube the Flesh

Use a sharp knife to chop or slice the flesh into the desired shape and size.

Step 5: Cook the Middle of the Gourd

The middle 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.

Recipe Ideas

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 (also called calabash) 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.

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