(Sep. 5, 2022) — The peak harvesting season for this delicious member of the gourd family in the northern hemisphere is from May to August. When harvested correctly, zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is dark green and has firm fruit. Although most people think of it as a summer vegetable, it is indeed a fruit.
The plant is native to Central America and Mexico. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,1 zucchini may have been one of “The Three Sisters,” which were crops planted together within a shared space. This indigenous agricultural practice used three plants — corn, beans, and squash — to nourish and protect each other as they grew.
Zucchini plants can grow in nearly every climate during the warm summer months. It takes only one or two plants to produce enough for one family. In addition to being a good producer throughout the growing season, zucchini is also high in nutrition and has several health benefits. Zucchinis are best harvested when they’re 1.5 inches round and no longer than 8 inches.
Zucchinis can taste bitter when they become overripe or stressed. This is because, like other vegetables in the family, zucchini contains toxins the plant uses to defend against predators.2 The zucchini produces cucurbitacins, which has a bitter taste. Usually, cultivated zucchinis have a low level of the toxin, but the level rises when they are overripe or stressed by such things as wide temperature swings, uneven watering, low soil fertility or low soil pH.
If you are saving your own seeds, be sure not to save seeds from plants that produced extremely bitter fruit that was not caused by environmental stress, as eating vegetables that are extremely bitter can lead to diarrhea and stomach cramps.
In an interview with Everyday Health,3 Kristin Gillespie, a registered dietitian from Virginia Beach explained that zucchini is rich with antioxidants and micronutrients, saying, “These benefits include reduced blood sugar levels, improved heart health, improved vision, enhanced weight loss, improved bone health, reduced inflammation and improved digestion.”
According to the USDA, 1 cup of chopped zucchini is low in calories, high in fiber and is an excellent source of these nutrients:4
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