Zucchini squash (courgette) is one of the most popular summer squashes in Americas and Europe. Like in other gourd vegetables, it also belongs in the Cucurbitaceae (Cucurbita-pepo) family of vegetables.
Summer squashes are believed to be originating in the Central America and Mexico. Several different cultivars of summer squash are grown throughout the United States during warmer, frost-free seasons. Almost all members of the squash family vegetables feature smooth skin, tender, crunchy flesh with small edible seeds and high moisture content.
|Courgette. Note for dark green tender fruits.
|Golden yellow zucchini.
Photo courtesy: iLoveButter
Summer squash crops, including zucchini, exhibit bush habit spread in contrast to vine type cover in case of winter squashes. Its fruits shall be ready for harvesting about 40-50 days after seed implantation.
Some popular varieties are:
Golden zucchini features brght golden-yellow skin that retains its color even after cooking.
Round types are dense, heavy, and nearly seedless with a smooth surface.
Tatume, which is common in Mexico, has similar features of round variety but has the large oval shape.
Costata Romanesco also known as Cocozelle is a long, narrow type with a slight bulge at the bottom end. It features pale, raised ribs with mottled green skin. When robust and young, this squash is juicy and sweet.
Middle-Eastern types are stocky, light green, tapering ends with a thick dark-green stem. They have smooth, shiny skin and firm, crispy and flavorful flesh.
Yellow Crooknecks have thick warty skin with a markedly curved neck. They are crunchy in texture with sweet, delicate flavor.
Zucchini is one of the very low-calorie vegetables; provide only 17 calories per 100 g. It contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. Its peel is an excellent source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers.
Zucchinis have antioxidant value (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity- ORAC) of 180 Trolox Equivalents (TE) per 100g, the value which is far below to some of the berries, and vegetables. Nonetheless, the pods are one of the common food ingredients included in weight reduction and cholesterol control programs by the dieticians.
Furthermore, zucchinis, especially golden skin varieties, are rich in flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These compounds help scavenge harmful oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the body that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
Courgette hold relatively moderate amounts of folates; provides 24 µg or 6% of RDA per 100 g. Folates are important in cell division and DNA synthesis. When taken adequately during early pregnancy it can help prevent neural tube defects in the fetus.
It is an excellent source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte and helps bring the reduction in blood pressure and heart rates by countering pressure effects of sodium.
Fresh fruits are rich in vitamin-A; provide about 200 IU per 100 g.
Fresh pods, indeed, are an excellent source of antioxidant vitamin-C. Provide about 17.9 µg or 30% of daily required levels per 100 g.
In addition, they contain moderate levels of the B-complex group of vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
Zucchinis can be available all around the year, but they are at their best during late spring and summer seasons.
In the stores, choose small to medium-sized zucchini featuring shiny, bright green skin, firm and heavy in hand. The best size for zucchini is 6 to 8 inches length and 2 inches or less in diameter. Some big sized varieties with marrow are specially grown for stuffing. Minor superficial scratches and mild bruises on their surface are common scene but perfectly fine.
Avoid overly mature, large courgette with pitted skin, and those with flabby or spongy textured. Furthermore, avoid those with soft and wrinkled ends as they indicate old stock and moistureless. Go for organically grown products to get rich flavor and nutrient content.
At home, place them in plastic bag and store inside the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator set at adequate relative humidity. They can be stored for up to 2-3 days.
Wash them thoroughly in cold, running water just before cooking. Sometimes the fruits may require light scrub at places where prickles or dirt attached firmly. Trim the neck and bases. Peeling of skin is not advised.
Zucchini blossoms are also an edible delicacy. In general, flowers are picked up during morning hours when they are fresh and soft. To prepare, open up blossoms and carefully inspect for insects. Pull off any calyces attached firmly at the base.
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh, tender zucchini can be eaten raw in salads.
The pods can be used fried, baked, steamed, boiled, or employed in a stuffing.
Fine-sections, chopped or grated, it can be shredded into bread, pizza, etc.
Young, tender, finger size zucchini known as "baby marrows" enjoyed in stir-fries.
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Visit here for very informative pages on:-
Research articles on nutrition.
2. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.
3. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Zuccini from A-Z (PDF).