Ash Gourd Gourds

Gourds are members of the family Cucurbitaceae (Cucurbits) along with melons, squash and cucumbers. They're all "cucumbers" to the botanist and "Vine Crops" to the agriculturist, and the're all fruit but in culinary practice gourds are "vegetables".

Gourds are native to Asia and Africa and were unknown in the Americas until brought by European traders and invaders after 1500 (some controversy here). In any case there were already squash in the Americas that dried to hard shells that would be called "gourds" in popular usage, but which aren't actually gourds.

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General & History

Gourds are not so neatly categorizable as squash and cucumbers, each of which belongs to a single genus (with just a couple exceptions). Not only are there several distinct genera of gourds but the line between gourds and cucumbers is a bit fuzzy, and some gourds are called "melons" even though they aren't.

For our discussion here "Gourd" will be any vine fruit belonging to family Cucurbitaceae and native to Asia or Africa that is not a melon or cucumber - regardless of what they're called in common usage.


Ash Gourd   -   [Winter Melon, White Pumpkin, Wax Gourd, Safed Petha (Hindi), Dong Gua (China), Benincasa hispida]
As Gourd

This large gourd is popular in China as Winter Melon, both for its delicacy when cooked and because with its waxy coating it can be kept well into the winter. In India it's used for sweets and curries. Immature melon is sold as Fuzzy Melon.

The photo specimen is a spherical variety about 10 inches in diameter, relatively small so it can be sold whole. The sausage shaped varieties can easily top a yard long and 50 pounds. Details and Cooking.

Bitter Melon   -   [Balsam Pear, Bitter Gourd; Karela (India); Ampalaya (Philippine); Ku gua (China), genus Momordica]
Actually a gourd, not a mellon, this is one of the most bitter of edible vegetables, the bitterness coming from quinine or a similar anti-malarial substance. It is reputed for many beneficial medicinal properties, particularly treatment of diabetes, but all need further study.

Aside from the bitterness, the flavor of this gourd is very interesting, and it is popular throughout India, Nepal, China and Southeast Asia. While long popular in Okinawa, this gourd has recently gained popularity on the main islands of Japan. People are using the vines to shade the sun side of their homes, and the gourds are available in markets during the Summer, for use in Okinawa style dishes.

Bitter Melon is now also grown in Africa, the Caribbean, and of course California. The Chinese variety is always in very good supply here in Los Angeles, and the Indian varieties are increasingly available.

The gourds are generally eaten quite green when the seed mass will be white. As the gourd ripens fully it turns yellowish, very bitter and less crisp. The pulpy arils surrounding the seeds become brilliant red and quite sweet. They are popular in salads in Southeast Asia but at this point the rest of the melon is of little use.

Chinese Bitter Melon   -   [Ku gua (China); Momordica charantia}

Chinese bitter melons are less bitter than the Indian variety, and seem to be a little less bitter in the larger sizes, such as those in the photo. The top photo specimen was 11-3/4 inches long, 2-1/4 inches diameter and weighed 12-5/8 ounces. As they ripen the pulpy seed surround, which is not bitter, becomes brilliant red and quite sweet, but by time it's at its best the melon is turning yellow and becoming mushy. Details and Cooking

Indian Bitter Melon   -   [Karela (India); Momordica charantia]

Indian bitter melons (bottom three in the photo) have a much rougher skin, are more bitter than the Chinese variety and also come in a white version. They are also more prone to damage and don't keep as well as the Chinese. Miniature Indian bitter melons are popular in India and Southeast Asia for stuffing as individual portions. Details and Cooking

Kantola   -   [Spiny Gourd, Teasle gourd; Kankada, Bhat-kerela, Kakrul, Ghi korola, Boda kakara, Aa-kakara-kaya, Kankoda, Thumba, Kartole, Haagala kaayi, Erumapaval (India); Momordica dioica]

This gourd is used as a vegetable all over India and in some parts of Southeast Asia. Usage, and rules of usage are very similar to Karala (Indian Bitter Melon). It is commonly fried with spices and often served with meats or fish. The specimen at the upper right is ripe and beyond the stage where it would be cooked. This gourd also has medicinal uses.   Photo by Sivahari distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Bitter Melon Leaf   -   [Dahon ng Ampalayá (Philippines) Momorica charantia]

This green is popular all over Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. It is mildly bitter, similar to the fruit but very much less so. The photo specimens, purchased from an Asian grower at a Los Angeles farmer's market, were from a bundle about 32 inches long. In the lower right quarter you can see a very immature bitter melon fruit. Flowers, if any, are small and yellow.   Details and Cooking

Taiwan Bitter Melon   -   [Momordica. charantia]

This melon is similar to the regular Chinese bitter melons but much larger paler in color and a lot less bitter. In fact, it's hardly bitter at all. I like them sliced, salted and eaten raw, but they seem a bit bland cooked. Clearly this is considered a prestige vegetable because the melons were individually shrink wrapped and carefully packed. I'm not sure they're actually grown in Taiwan, the Asian markets around here seem to label a lot of unusual stuff "Taiwan". The top photo specimen was 11 inches long, 3-1/4 inches diameter and weighed 1 pound 6-1/2 ounces. Details and Cooking

Concombre Sauvage   -   [Nyanya-nua, Sopropo, Kakle, Awoduan, Aoasongo, Gaayama, Nania, N-gessannia, Boobo, Bobonowron, Vovolé, Vovoné Vono, Hepa, Isúgu, Alu-osi, Akb'an'udene, Ejinrin, Tsekiri, A-bos-a-wir (Africa); Momordica foetida]
Cut Gourd

Native to tropical Africa, fruits of this plant are about 2-3/4 inches long and covered with soft spines, which become prickly and sharp when the fruit dries. The leaves are a bit bitter, but cooked as a vegetable in Gabon and Malawi. The fruit is cooked and eaten throughout its range, and the tuberous roots are cooked and eaten in Sudan. All parts of the plant are used midicinally.   Photo by Pharaoh han distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Gac   -   [Baby Jackfruit, Spiny Bitter Gourd, Sweet Gourd, Cochinchin Gourd (English); Gac, Qua Gac (Viet); Fuk Kao (Thai); Momordica cochinchinensis]

Despite the common English name and it's outward and inward appearance, Gac is completely unrelated to the actual Jackfruit.. It grows on vines like any other gourd or cucumber and has red arils surrounding the seeds just like a ripe Bitter Gourd should, but they are very large. This gourd is eaten in Vietnam, combined with glutinous rice in a dish called xôi gac. Gac is highly seasonal, available from December into February. The photo specimen was 5-1/4 inches diameter and weighed 2-1/2 pounds.

Gac has a higher concentration of bioavailable beta-carotene (Vitamin A) than any other fruit or vegetable, 10 times that of carrots, and 70 times the lycopene provided by tomatoes. It is also very high in a number of important phytonutrients and Vitamin E, and the pulp contains a fair amount of oils which efficiently transport these nutrients. It is now being sold in the West in capsule form as a nutritional supplement. Details and Cooking.

Monk Fruit   -   [Luo han guo (China); La han qua (Viet); longevity fruit (not unique); Fructus Momordicae (Pharm); Siraitia grosvenorii]
Monk Fruit fresh

Native to southern China and northern Thailand, and closely related to the Bitter Melons (but of genus Siraitia, not Momordica), this rare gourd has recently become better known in the West. Extracts from this fruit are 300 times sweeter than sugar with almost no calories. The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recently rated the fruit and extracts from it as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), so they will soon be included as natural sweeteners in any number of products. The fruits grow on vines and are between 2 to 2-3/4 inches diameter with sweet, fleshy edible pulp and many seeds. Details and Cooking.   Photo by KasugaHuang distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

Bottle Gourd   -   [Opo, Calabash (U.S.); Upo (Filipino); Dudhi, Lauki, Sorakaya (India); Yugao, Kampyo (Japan); Po gua (Canton); Kwa kawa, Hu gua (China); Cucuzzi, Cucuzza (Italy); Bau (Viet); Lagenaria siceraria]
Opo Gourd

This gourd comes in many shapes and sizes from long and snake like to spherical but the form pictured is the one common in Southern California markets. They will grow much larger but they get very bitter when more mature. Eventually the shell hardens and the gourd becomes hollow and may be used as a container or carved decoratively.

Young shoots and leaves are also edible. Dried strips of the gourd called Kampyo are important in Japan and often used as edible bindings to hold other ingredients together. Details and Cooking.

Calabash - See Bottle Gourd. There is also a Calabash that isn't a gourd at all but the large spherical fruit of a tree in the Bignonia family (B. Crescentia (6 species)) native to Central and South America. Both types of calabash are dried and used as containers.

Fuzzy Melon   -   [Mao gwa, Mu qua Tseet gwa (China); Heari Meron (Japan (got that?)); Timum balu (Malay); Faeng (Thai); Bi (Viet); Benincasa hispida]
Fuzzy Melon

A variety of the large to gigantic Ash Gourd that's picked and eaten at a much earlier stage of growth. In this stage it's covered with short bristles, thus the name, but by time I get them home most have rubbed off. Many recipes say to peel them, but you'll have more flavor and more melon if you just scrape them.

Asian recipes usually presume they're about 1/2 pound, but here in Los Angeles they run from 1 pound to a shade over 2 pounds. The photo specimen was 13 inches long and weighed 2-1/4 pounds, well above average size. Details and Cooking.

Three fruits are called "gherkin", generally when pickled, and one of then is a gourd.

Ivy Gourd - see Tindora.

Luffa Gourd   -   [Loofa, Sponge Gourd, genus Loofa]

Most well known in the U.S. as a bath sponge, these gourds are grown in a number of varieties both for sponges and for eating. They are immensely popular in India and also much used in Southeast Asia and China.

Angled Luffa   -   [Chinese Okra, Silk Gourd, Vine Okra, California Okra; Turai, Torai, Dodka (India); Patola (Philippine); Buap liyam (Thai); Luffa acutangula]

Grown all over Southeast Asia, these have also long been a common vegetable here in Southern California. They are used by Asians of all stripes, from India to the Philippines. Though commonly sold as "Chinese Okra", it is entirely unrelated to Okra and does not resemble it in flavor, texture, cooking properties or size, only in that it has ridges.

The skin is stiff and thin with sharp ridges running the full length. The flesh is very delicate in both flavor and texture, yet holds its shape well when cooked. The photo specimen was 19 inches long, 2-1/2 inches diameter and weighed 14 ounces. They vary in shape and size. The cut one was more uniform in diameter, 21 inches long and weighed just over 1 pound. Details and Cooking.

Smooth Luffa   -   [Egyptian Luffa, Silk Gourd; Galka, Turai, Ghosavala (India), Patola (Philippine), Luffa cylindrica alt L. aegyptiaca]
Smooth Luffa

Probably of African origin, these are an eating variety which may be cylindrical or snake shaped with little or no ridging. Cylindrical ones are generally eaten when they are about 8 to 10 inches long, snake shaped ones depending on variety. The photo specimen in the center was 11 inches long and 2-1/2 inches diameter.

These gourds have not yet become common in Southern California markets, but I have found them in Indian markets in Artesia. They have a more distinctly vegetable flavor than the Angled Luffa and store considerably longer. In California they are grown commercially mostly for the bath sponge produced when they mature and dry out. They are also grown in Florida where some may be used for cooking. Details and Cooking

Smooth Luffa   -   [Egyptian Luffa, Luffa cylindrica alt L. aegyptiaca]

This is the same Luffa as the previous entry but allowed to mature completely and dry. They are harvested for the sponge-like interior fiber (the papery shell is easily removed). The "sponges" are popular as bath sponges and for various household chores.

Luffas should be dried well between uses for longer life. A large one also serves marvelously as a non-injurious club for swatting snoring bed companions in the night. The sponge pictured is about 26 inches long. My local market always has a pile of them for about $1.39 each but you can pay a lot more for a short piece at an upscale bath boutique.

Sponge Cucumber   -   [Sponge Gourd, Round Luffa, Wild Luffa; Luffa operculata]
Round Luffa

This Luffa is only about 5 inches long pointed at both ends with spiky skin. It is used as a small sponge and made into massage brushes and sponge gloves, but is more noted for medicinal uses. It has many uses in South American folk medicine and is widely sold in the U.S. in pill and potion form as an ingredient in sinus treatments. It also appears in homeopathic remedies.

When immature this luffa can be cooked just the same as the larger ones shown above.   Photo by H./Zell distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Opo / Upo - See Bottle Gourd

Parval Gourd   -   [Parwal gourd, Pointed Gourd, Potal; C.Trichosanthes dioica]
Parval Gourd

This tiny realative of the Snake Gourd is an important vegetable in Bengal and Uttar Pradesh (north eastern India). They have just started becoming available in the Indian markets here in Southern California (spring 2013) but are still expensive at about 2013 US $5.99 per pound. They were formerly only available canned, but availability fresh is still very erratic.

These gourds can grow to 6 inches long but are harvested immature at between 2 and 3 inches. The photo specimens were typically 2-1/2 inches long and 1.2 inches diameter. The seeds are larger and more mature than in other edible gourds and are a bit crunchy, but since these gourds are often stuffed or sliced, the seeds are usually removed. The skin is very thin but a little hard, so they are most often scraped. Cooked taste was pleasant, but not really distinctive. I'd not seek these out at the price - but then, I'm not from there.

Snake Gourd   -   [Serpent Gourd, Chichinga, Padwal, Trichosanthes cucumerina var anguina]
Snake Gourd

This gourd is popular in Southern India and Southeast Asia. It comes in various colors, sizes and shapes, growing to as long as 6 feet, and in Asia is often seen with a rock tied to the tip to keep it growing straight. Shoots and leaves are also eaten as a vegetable.

The flesh of this gourd is similar to the Luffa and Bottle Gourd and like them will hold its shape when cooked. Unlike the other two, the seed mass of the Snake Gourd is loose and fluffy and is usually removed. Snake gourd is also used in traditional Chinese medicine.   Details and Cooking.   Photo by Abhilash placed in public domain.

Pork Fat Nut   -   [Lard Seed; Akar kepayang (Malay); Hodgsonia macrocarpa   |   H. heteroclita]
Gourds Painting

These gourds, of the same tribe as the Parval and Snake Gourds above, but quite different in makeup, are native to the eastern Himalayas, Yunan, China and Assam in the far northeast of India. These vines produce fibrous fleshed fruit weighing about 4 pounds. The more commonly used H. macrocarpa is lighter in color and lacks the pumpkin-like sutures of H. heteroclita in the watercolor. Each fruit has up to 8 large seeds which have a 50% fat content. They are suspected of being slightly toxic raw, but are generally roasted or otherwise cooked before use. Roasted, they taste like fatty pieces of pork. In Assam these nuts are used in curries. The flesh is not considered edible. Cooking oil can be pressed from the seeds, which is also used medicinally, as are other parts of the plant.   Watercolor by John Fergusson 1855 copyright expired.

Tinda   -   [Indian round gourd, apple gourd, Indian baby pumpkin, Praecitrullus fistulosus alt Citrullus vulgaris]
Tinda Gourds

Native to India, this gourd is popular in the cuisines of Northern India and Pakistan. It's becoming more common in Southern California and is seasonally available in markets that have a significant Indian / Pakistani element in their clientele. The gourd is eaten in an immature stage when it will be about 3 inches in diameter and tender with skin that does not need to be peeled. Seeds of more mature gourds are also eaten. Details and Cooking.

Tindora   -   [Ivy Gourd, Indian Gherkin; Scarlet Gourd; Pepino Cimarron (Spanish); Hong gua (China); Kovakka (Malay); Tendli, Tondli, Tindola, Ghiloda, Goli, Kundri, Kundru, Kunduzi, Kowai, Kovai, Donda, Dondakaya (India); Coccinia grandis]
Ivy Gourd

A popular vegetable in India, this tiny gourd can now be found in Indian markets in California and elsewhere. Here it is always sold green, looking very much like a tiny cucumber, but in India it is also sometimes used in it's scarlet red mature stage.

Tindora can be eaten raw and are a lot more crunchy than cucumbers, or they may be cooked as a side dish or may be pickled. When pickled they are sometimes called "gherkin" but are easy to tell from the real Gherkin and from cucumber gherkins by their smooth skin. Typically they are between 2-1/2 and 3-1/4 inches long, 3/4 to 7/8 inch diameter and weigh around 5/8 ounce. Details and Cooking.

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