Bottle gourd or calabash is a delicately flavored, Cucurbita family vegetable. It is one of the chief culinary vegetables in many tropical and temperate regions around the world.
Botanically, calabash belongs to the broader Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family of plants, in the genus: Lagenaria. Scientific name: Lagenaria siceraria (Molina) Standl. Some of the common names are white-flower gourd, opo-squash, long-squash, etc., in the west and doodhi or lauki in the Indian subcontinent.
|Bottle gourd. Note that round and pear-shaped fruits are known as calabash in the west.|
Bottle gourd is a fast growing, annual climber (vine) that requires adequate sunlight for flowering and fruiting. It can be grown in a wide range of soils and need trellis support for a spread.
Its intensely branched stems bear musky, deep green, broad leaves just similar as that in pumpkins, and white, monoecious flowers in the summer. After about 75 days from the plantation, young, tender, edible fruits evolve that will be ready for harvesting.
Bottle gourds come in wide range of shapes and sizes.The fruit features oval, pear-shaped or elongated and smooth skin that is light green. In the case of round or pear shaped calabash, their surface is marked by inconspicuous ridges that run lengthwise. Internally, its flesh is white, spongy and embedded with soft, tiny seeds. As the fruit begins to mature, its seeds gradually grow similar to as that in honeydew melons.
Bottle gourd is one of the lowest calorie vegetables- carrying just 14 calories per 100 g. It is one of the vegetables recommended by the dieticians in weight-control programs.
Fresh gourds contain small quantities of folates, contain about 6 µg/100g (Provide just 1.5% of RDA). Folate helps reduce the incidence of neural tube defects in the newborns when taken by anticipant mothers during their early months of pregnancy.
Fresh calabash gourd is a modest source of vitamin-C (100 g of raw fruit provides 10 mg or about 17% of RDA). Vitamin-C, one of the powerful natural antioxidants that help the human body scavenge harmful free radicals, which labeled as one of the reasons for cancer development.
Calabash facilitates easy digestion and movement of food through the bowel until it is excreted from the body. Thus, it helps in relieving indigestion and constipation problems.
Aslo, the vegetable is also a modest source of thiamin, niacin (vitamin B-3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, manganese and magnesium.
Bottle gourd tender leaves and tendrils are also edible and indeed contain higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals than its fruit.
Bottle gourds can be available around the season in the regions wherever suitable conditions for their growth exist. In the markets, look for fresh produce featuring tender, medium size, uniform, light green color fruit. Take a close look of its stem, which may offer a valuable hint whether the produce is fresh or aged.
Avoid those with oversize, mature, yellow-discoloration, cuts and bruise on their surface. Tiny spots on the surface, however, would not lessen their quality.
At home, store them in the refrigerator set at adequate humidity where they stay fresh for 3-4 days.
|Bottle gourd cut sections. Note for ice-white, spongy flesh, and tiny, soft seeds.|
Bottle gourd is one of the most common vegetables in continuous use since ancient times. To prepare, wash the fruit in cold water and dry mop using a soft cloth or paper towel. Trim its top end in case of round or pear shaped calabash and either end in case of an elongated gourd. Peeling may not be required in case of tender fruits. Chop the produce into uniform desired chunks for even cooking.
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh calabash is used in a variety of stews, curries, sweet recipes across the world. In the Indian subcontinent where it is popularly known as lauuki, employed in the preparation of sabzi, sambar, chutney, soup, raita, etc.
In India and Pakistan, its flesh is used to prepare a mouth-watering sweet dish, lauki-ki-halwa.
In Africa, where it is thought to have taken its origin, calabash is used in stews with meat, poultry, and seafood.
In India, bottle gourd juice is a favorite drink for its known health benefits.
Some bottle gourds develop naturally occurring cucurbitacins in excess amounts under environmental adversities and may accumulate terpenoid toxic compounds such as cucurbitacin B, D, G, H, etc.
Bottle gourd poisoning is a condition that occurs when a raw bitter (toxic) bottle gourd consumed either directly or in the form of juice. Incidents of serious illness and deaths have been reported in India after consumption of bitter bottle gourd juice for its purported health benefits. Symptoms may include vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea and can occur within minutes of ingestion of poisonous juice which may follow serious illness like bleeding from the gut, shock, and death.
ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) recommends the following guidelines regarding bottle gourd consumption to the public:
1. A small piece of bottle gourd should be tasted before extracting the whole fruit juice to ensure that it is not bitter. If found bitter, then the whole fruit should be discarded.
2. Bitter bottle gourd juice should not be consumed at all.
3. Bottle gourd juice should not be mixed with any other juice.
4. In the case of discomfort after consumption (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or any feeling of uneasiness), the person should be immediately taken to nearby hospital. (Medical disclaimer).
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