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Snake gourd (Chichinda) Nutrition facts

Snake gourd is a popular and widely grown vegetable in South and Southeast Asian countries. Also known as chichinda in the Northern parts of India, it is cultivated for its long, slender, and immature fruits.

The snake gourd is a fast-growing annual creeper in the Cucurbitaceae family. Its fruits having a unique yet pleasant flavor, quite reminiscent of a ridge gourd (luffa) and are used in the preparation of a variety of vegetable dishes.

Family: Cucurbitaceae, Genus: Trichosanthes.

Scientific name: Trichosanthes cucumerina.

snake gourd
Snake gourd.

Snake gourd is an annual, tropical, climber, or creeper. It needs trellising support for adequate growth and good fruiting yield. Its growth, climatic, and soil requirements are similar to that of other gourd vegetables like bitter gourd.

After about 60 days of seedling, small, white flowers appear. Snake gourd is monoecious; separate male and female flowers grow on the same plant.

Female flowers are solitary, sessile with long narrow ovaries and fimbriae corolla. Male flowers appear in clusters on long densely pubescent stalks of 10 to 20 cm long. Flowers normally bloom in the early hours of the night

Varieties of different lengths, thickness, color, and presence or absence of white stripes or striations on fruits are cultivated throughout tropical Asia. Fruits are long, cylindrical, light green, or milky-white with white stripes running along their length. Fruits at the harvest stage usually measure 12-30 cm in length and diameter- 3-5 cm.

Trichosanthes dioica, also known as pointed-gourd or parwal, is a close member of snake gourd (T. cucurmenia). This creeper is different by being a perennial, dioecious (separate male and female plants), and fruits are small and ovate.

Snake gourd young leaves and long slender stem tops - cooked and eaten as a potherb or added to soups.

Health benefits of Snake gourd

  1. Snake gourd is a very low-calorie Cucurbitaceae vegetable. 100 grams (3.5 oz) of raw fruit holds 18 calories, almost the same as for Ridge gourd (20 calories). It carries no saturated fats or cholesterol.

  2. T.cucumerina peel and flesh is an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fiber. Adequate dietary fiber helps in smooth bowel movements and offers protection against colon cancers by eliminating toxic compounds from the gut.

  3. Snake gourd is a gluten-free food ingredient. It can be a good substitute for gluten-sensitive (celiac disease) people.

  4. Tender leaves and shoots of snake gourd are rich in flavonoids and β-carotene. The other flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as alpha-carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

  5. Together with vitamin-A, pigment compounds help scavenge harmful oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the body that play a role in aging, cancer, and various inflammatory disease processes.

  6. Snake gourd fruit also has less sodium but contains good amounts of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart-friendly electrolyte that helps in decreasing blood pressure and heart rates by countering the pressing effects of sodium.

  7. Further, snake gourd carries modest levels of other B-complex groups of vitamins like riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and minerals like Calcium- 26 mg, Phosphorus- 20 mg, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.


Medicinal values of snake gourd

The plant parts of T. cucurmenia also have medicinal uses and are useful for people suffering from blood pressure, heart diseases, rheumatism, and psoriasis.

The extract of fruits and leaves has been thought to improve the appetite, and acts as a tonic, and stomachic and cures biliousness. However, sufficient scientific research is lacking to substantiate its claim its use as a curative food item.


See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:

Snake gourd (Chichinda), raw, Nutrition value per 100 g.

(Source: Gopalan et al. 1989 table 1- Nutritional values of Indian Foods.

Principle Nutrient Value % of RDA
Energy 18 Kcal 1%
Carbohydrates 3.3 g 2.6%
Protein 0.5 g 1%
Total Fat 0.3 g 1.5%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 0.8 g 1.5%
Minerals
Calcium 26 mg 2.6%
Iron 1.51 mg 18.8%
Phyto-nutrients
Carotene-β 2.24 mg --

Buying and storage

Snake gourd is available all around the seasons in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. Look for fresh, tender fruits in the local farmer markets. Choose green, immature, firm pods with a unique smell and intact bloom on the surface.

Avoid oversize, mature, tough-skinned, sunken, and flabby fruits as they may be a sign of old-stock and flavorless. Also, avoid those with surface cuts, cracks, bruised, or broken.

Fresh snake gourd store well if kept in the refrigerator. At home, store them in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator and should be used within two or three days of purchase before it begins to limp.


Preparation and serving methods

Wash in clean water to rid of any surface dirt and sand. No need to scrape them. The skin of immature fruits is edible. Slice the fruit of the desired size using a paring knife. Like in squashes and gourds, snake gourd should not be overcooked.

Snake gourd has a mild, delicate flavor and soft texture; very similar to that of ridge gourd (luffa). It is used mostly in stir-fried dishes or curries/soups. It goes particularly well with lentils in lentil curry and mixed-vegetable stews.

Here are some serving tips:

  • In Northern India, Pakistan, and Nepal, Snake gourd is popularly called as chichinda, It is employed in stuffed sabzi (Bharwa chichinda), stews, and soups.

  • Snake gourd is a common vegetable featuring in curries/Palya/stews in many parts of South Indian states.

  • In Maharashtra, snake gourd is known as padwal (not to be confused with pointed-gourd (Trichosanthes dioica), which is also known as parwal in North India). Spice-mix stuffed snake Gourd and stir-fry (Padwal Chi Bhaji) is a popular recipe.

  • Its tender leafy tips and tendrils are equally popular and used as greens/potherb in the dishes.

  • In Tamilnadu, where this vegetable is a large crop, snake gourd is known by the local name Pudalangai/potlakaya. Immature, green fruits used in Pudalangai poriyal (masala sabzi with bengal gram dal)/kootu (curry lentils and spices) recipe.


Safety profile

Snake gourd consumption rarely elicits allergic reactions.

Oftentimes, a few snake gourd fruits can be bitter due to terpenoid toxic compounds such as cucurbitacin B, D, G, H, etc.

If found, discard the whole fruit. In a case of discomfort after consumption (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or any feeling of uneasiness), one should seek immediate medical attention. (Medical disclaimer).



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Further reading:

  1. Gopalan et al. 1989 table 1- Nutritional values of Indian Foods.

  2. Cucurbit breeding-Gourds.-PDF




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