Have you ever heard of a Cucurbitaceae? Cucurbitaceae’s are some of the world’s most valuable crops and are sometimes call cucurbits or gourds. They are a plant family consisting of about 965 species in around 95 genera! Let’s take a closer look into the health benefits from a few members of the Cucurbitaceae family that are currently in season. Some of these crops you may recognize, and others may be unfamiliar!
The sweet, juicy flesh of a melon is one of summer’s supreme pleasures. All melons are members of the Cucurbitaceae family.
Watermelon: Watermelon is around 90% water, which makes it useful for staying hydrated in the summer. It can also satisfy a sweet tooth with its natural sugars. Watermelon is rich in the antioxidant lycopene which gives it its red color. Studies have shown lycopene to prevent various chronic diseases such as dyslipidemia, diabetes, oncogenesis, neurodegenerative diseases, osteoporosis etc.
Honey dew: Honey dew is about 90% water and contains electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium
The honeydew fruit and seeds contain compounds with strong antioxidant capacity, including beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), phytoene, quercetin and caffeic acid all of which can lower your risk of chronic disease.
Cantaloupe: Cantaloupes are also 90% water and extremely high in vitamin C and Vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). It also scores “good” for a host of B vitamins (B1, B3, B6, and folate) as well as vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, copper, and fiber. When the edible seeds of the cantaloupe are eaten, this melon also provides a measurable about of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid.
Galia: Galia is a hybrid melon cross between cantaloupe and honeydew! also called tropical melons, originated in Israel. Their thick, lime-green flesh is smooth, with a complex flavor suggestive of tropical fruit and a fresh, banana-like aroma. Galia melons are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, carotenoids, bioflavonoids, various minerals, like potassium, calcium, iron and also contain significant levels of dietary fiber, including pectin.
How to Pick a Perfect Melon?
- Avoid melons that have bruises, cracks or soft spots.
- Note the melon’s weight. The heavier the melon, the juicier the fruit!
- The nose knows, so take a sniff. A fragrant melon is a good melon! Note: Netted varieties will have an aroma, while smooth melons won’t.
- Give the melon a little tap with the palm of your hand. If it sounds hollow, it’s ripe and ready to eat!
- Keep your melons at room temperature until cutting (they should last about 3 days).
Gourds are a not so sweet, but fleshy, and typically a large fruit with a hard skin. Let’s check out some edible varieties that are widely available at this time of the year and offer a bountiful of nutrients. They are quite easy to grow in ground as well as in containers. I am growing quite a variety of gourds this year and I have had such a successful crop.
Bottle gourd: Also known as white-flowered gourd or calabash gourd, is a running or climbing vine of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). The interior flesh is creamy white with petite seeds that when young are tender and edible but when more mature become hard and should be removed prior to consumption.
Young bottle gourd squash offers a mild flavor reminiscent of summer squash and cucumber with a firm texture. Bottle gourd is a vegetable with 90% water content and is a rich source of vitamin C, K and calcium. It helps in maintaining a healthy heart and brings down bad cholesterol levels. The juice is also beneficial for diabetic patients as it stabilizes the blood sugar level and maintains blood pressure.
To prepare a quick curry with bottle gourd, steam diced bottle gourd, sauté in your favorite oil, add salt, turmeric and your favorite curry powder and enjoy.
Snake gourd: Snake gourd is loaded with various nutrients which provide numerous health benefits. It possesses meaningful amounts of carbohydrates, protein and soluble fiber. Vitamins such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A, riboflavin, thiamine and niacin are also present in Snake gourd. It contains high content of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and iodine. The plant has high content of chemical constituents such as carotenoids, flavonoids and phenolic acids.
Snake gourd offers fiber that supports digestive health, treats diabetes, detoxifies body and eradicates cholesterol from the body. It is useful to maintain healthy heart and liver. It also counteracts respiratory problems, acidity, cancer and worms. It provides relief from arthritis, promotes hair growth, boost immunity and promotes weight loss. This gourd can be cooked just as bottle gourd. Always taste a little piece of this gourd before you cook to make sure it is not bitter.
Ash gourd/Winter melon: Ash gourd a common vegetable in South East Asia. It resembles a pumpkin in size and is grey or ash color. It has a highwater content and is highly nutritious. This vegetable is rich in many essential vitamins and minerals and is a good source of phosphorus, calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and Vitamin C. Use it in your soups along with your vegetables.
Bitter gourd: Bitter gourd is a plant that gets its name from its taste. It becomes more and more bitter as it ripens. Bitter gourd is a rich source of vitamins and minerals. It contains iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins like A and C. It contains twice the calcium of spinach and beta-carotene of broccoli. Bitter melon is traditionally known for its medicinal properties such as antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammation, antivirus, and cholesterol lowering effects. Blanch your bitter gourd to tone down the bitterness. Then, sauté it to make a stir fry.
Ridge gourd: It is also known as Luffa and possess the same properties and offers many health benefits similar to other gourds. Ridge gourd is also a vine and can be grown in ground or in containers. The health benefits of this gourd are similar compared to other gourds. Pick the tender young gourds and cook them like bottle gourd.
How to pick a perfect gourd?
Harvest gourds when the stem attached to the fruit begins to dry and turn brown. Since the rind or skin is susceptible to bruising or scratching, handle the gourds carefully. Cut the gourds from the vines with a hand shears, leaving a few inches of the stem attached to the fruit.
There are many benefits of eating seasonally including:
- Richer flavor – Produce that is picked when it’s fully ripened tastes as it should! When we buy foods that are out of season they are picked before they are ripe and often do not reach peak ripeness as we buy it.
- Better nutrition – When produce is picked before it’s ripe, the nutrients do not fully develop in the flesh of the fruit. Plants need the sun to grow and picking them before they are ripe cuts off the nutrient availability.
I challenge you to incorporate one or many of the Cucurbitaceae’s listed above into your diet this week.
Happy Nourishing Simple Living
Lavanya Kethamukkala, RDN, LDN, CLT