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Bottle Gourd: Versatile Vegetable with Crafty Possibilities

Bottle gourds are a fun vegetable that's filling and nutritious, but they're also used to create utensils, carrying vessels, even musical instruments. Transport yourself to the tropics for a little education on a veggie that has earned the respect of native cultures for centuries.


Bottle Gourds Are Veggies for Eating and Creating Crafts



You may know the bottle gourd by one of its other commonly referred names - calabash, lauki, opo squash, or long melon. Despite the strange names, these squashes are not only a delicious and versatile vegetable that goes well with dinner, but they are also used as containers in certain countries to carry items by hand. Letís delve into the finer details of this interesting food item now.

History

Bottle gourds are popular cultivated plants usually found in tropical areas. There is some debate on where the gourds originated. Some claim they were first seen in the Zimbabwe region of Africa; others insist on Asia as being the country of origin. Wild bottle gourds in these regions have thinner walls and would easily break during shipment.

Even so, they are still used by experienced tribes to mold into utensils. Present-day bottle gourds have been domesticated to have thick, waterproof walls that make them more versatile as carrying vessels.

What is it?

Bottle gourds are grown on vines, similar to pumpkins, and are harvested as a food item early in the year, and as a utensil later on as they mature. The inside of the squash eventually becomes tough and loses its flavor. Native cultures hollow out the vessels and use the dried casings to craft things like utensils, bottles, and pipes.


Health Benefits

A cooked bottle gourd or lauki is a soothing food that acts as a natural diuretic. Itís high in fiber and very low in calories, making them an excellent food source for people who are dieting. Eating healthy portions of cooked lauki fills your stomach and induces a feeling of relaxation throughout your body. Dieters can enjoy large portions of cooked bottle gourd without being concerned about counting calories.

It is important to note that bottle gourds must be cooked before they are eaten. Eating the vegetable raw could cause ulcers or other harmful effects for the stomach and digestive system. Bottle gourds, like other members of the gourd family, contain a tetracyclic triterpenoid cucurbitacins compound, which would offer a very bitter taste if eaten raw.

This bitter taste should give people an indication of its potentially poisonous nature, but weight loss marketers have touted raw 'calabash juice' as a miracle drink for dieters. Because of this, itís worth repeating that drinking raw 'calabash juice' or eating raw bottle gourd is dangerous to your health. Cooking bottle gourds renders them harmless and provides a tasty, filling dish with enough health benefits to keep anyone on a weight loss program satisfied.

Fun Facts

Bottle gourds are considered one of the first cultivated plants in the world, even if they were initially used as containers rather than as food. In rural areas, youíll see these gourds being crafted into things like bowls, cups, utensils, and basins. They are commonly used to carry water or other items like dirt, fish, and other foods. Some Caribbean countries feature artists who create shoulder bags or other items that have worked, painted, decorated, and sold to tourists. You may have seen these versatile plants made into decorative bird nests, hung from large poles.

In Jamaica, the natural lifestyle of Rastafarians living there has prompted them to create rattles from the gourds for their musical festivals. Crafting items like cups, bowls, or even water-pipes, there is consistent with the 'Ital' or natural lifestyle. Such people often avoid modern products like table salt, and reject modern cooking methods, such as microwaves.

Haitians use bottle gourds to make sacred rattles called ďassons,Ē which are emblematic of their native Vodou priesthood. The bottle gourd plant is highly respected in these areas, and is even considered to be the national tree of island of St. Lucia.

How to eat

The calabash is a vegetable frequently used in Asian cuisine for stir-fry or soup. In Burma, they eat a spicy hot fermented fish sauce called Nga peet along with the boiled young leaves of the calabash tree. Central Americans toast the seeds of the bottle gourd and grind them into other ingredients like cinnamon, rice, and allspice to make a popular drink called horchata.

In many other cultures, this unique gourd is cooked like summer squash and flavored with a variety of toppings including brown sugar and butter. The bottle gourd is also used in Indian cooking and spices to create warm, spicy aromas for certain foods they eat often.

You may need to visit a specialty grocer to obtain a few bottle gourds, but this delicacy is well worth the effort to find and try for yourself. The fun part is, after youíve eaten the flesh of the vegetable, you can use the outer shell to express a little creativity, too. Create a colorful bird feeder or a number of other objects to decorate your home, and youíll have witnessed a versatile veggie thatís good for dinner and entertainment, all in one.


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