Gourds are fascinating, for some reason. Here are some of the most underrated and unknown gourds, and the fruits and veggies that seem like gourds but aren't.
Did you know that gourds come in four different varieties -- Cucurbita, Lagenaria, Luffa and Sechium? But within those four varieties, there are also many different types of gourds, and you probably haven't heard of all of them.
There's something mysterious and fascinating about gourds. Some of them contain delicious fruit and seeds beneath their tough exteriors. Others simply look strange and beautiful, making them a popular choice for decor.
But which types of gourds are you missing out on -- and are there any false gourds out there? We'll answer all of your unique gourd questions here: read on to learn more about these compelling plants!
A Gourd Definition
First, what is a gourd?
Gourds are fruits that come from members of Cucurbitaceae, the gourd plant family. These hard-shelled fruits have proved to be incredibly useful to many different cultures over the centuries. Not only can some be eaten or used in decorating, but they can also be dried and turned into cups, tools, and other useful things.
Because they're so useful, humans have been growing gourds for a very long time. Our selective breeding has left us with a long list of types of gourds, grown in many different climates. However, gourds are typically native to warm temperate or tropical climates, and can't survive frost.
Gourds grow on vines, and take a long time to mature. But once they're grown, their many uses make them well worth the wait.
The Gourds You've (Probably) Never Heard Of Before
Many people already know about certain popular gourds, like pumpkin. You might be surprised to learn that many other well-loved plants, including watermelon, cucumber, melon, and zucchini, are also gourds.
But what about the gourds you've never heard of? These fascinating varieties will give you something new to look for at the store or farmer's market.
The tropical-growing ivy gourd is commonly used in some regions as food and medicine. When cooked, these gourds are similar to bitter melon or bitter gourd (more on those below). Ivy gourds actually include a few different species of gourd.
Ivy gourds make an important ingredient in certain soups and curries. Some people also take it as a health supplement. It appears to have possible antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may make it useful for treating a lot of different conditions.
Mostly, you'll find ivy gourd used in alternative medicine. Not many studies have yet been done to prove its healing properties, but it is still widely used.
Bitter gourd or bitter melon also has both food and medicinal uses.
People typically eat bitter gourd while it's still green or just starting to turn yellow. The taste is similar to that of a cucumber or bell pepper, but more bitter. This bitter taste can make a nice contrast to other flavors in food.
As medicine, the bitter gourd may help control blood sugar levels, decrease cholesterol, and more. It also has a high nutrient content.
The Malabar tamarind has become incredibly popular in recent years as a health and weight-loss supplement (you can learn more about these supplements at https://www.advancedliving.com). However, it also has uses in foods as well.
These fruits look like small pumpkins, and they come in shades of green or light yellow. They're often used in traditional curry recipes in India and Southeast Asia. Malabar tamarind adds a tasty, sour note to these recipes.
If you see a gourd with a long, crooked neck, it very well may be a crookneck pumpkin. This squash comes from South American originally, but it's now used in recipes in certain regions of North America.
There are actually a few different types of crookneck pumpkin (sometimes called crookneck squash), including winter and summer varieties.
The snake gourd gets its name from its long, thin, snake-like shape. It may be straight, curved, or twisted.
Like many other gourds, snake gourds can be eaten, although they're best harvested when they're young. The taste becomes more bitter as the fruit ages. Cooking can also help reduce the bitter taste.
If you've ever bought a natural luffa or "loofah" sponge, you actually bought a dried piece of the luffa gourd. However, these gourds are also edible, making them one of the many gourds out there with multiple purposes.
Luffas must be harvested young in order to be edible. As the fruit ripens, it develops more fibers. Eventually, these gourds have enough fiber to be turned into scrubbing sponges, once everything but the fiber is removed.
In cooking, luffa gourds often get used in soups, stir-fries, curries, and more.
Are There Plants That Seem Like Gourds but Aren't?
Are there any false gourds? Not too many, actually.
That said, some people do use the term "gourds" to refer to plants grown for decorative purposes, distinguishing these gourds from edible varieties like pumpkin. However, this is different from the way the term is used botanically -- to refer both to edible and inedible gourds.
However, one plant is often mistaken for a gourd when it isn't one: the calabash. The calabash "gourd" is actually a pod that grows in a small tree, rather than a vine. The pods are used in much the same way as true gourds are, hence the confusion.
How to Find Little-Known Gourds
With all of these different gourds to choose from, you might be wondering if you can try some of them for yourself. Although these gourds are likely little-known to you, they're very popular in other cultures for good reason.
If you live in the right climate, you may be able to grow some of these gourds on your own. Gourds are hardy and tend to be easy to grow, and if there are no gourd seed locations near you, you can often buy seeds online. That way, even if you can't find them in the grocery store, you may be able to try some new-to-you varieties.
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