Bottle gourd can vary in size shape and length depending on how it is grown and when it is harvested. It can be short and round, uniformly cylindrical, curved, bulbous, or extremely long and thin. Its skin is most often smooth though there are some varieties that are covered in fine hairs. Its coloring can vary from a light green or chartreuse to a dark green. 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 low in calories and provides small amounts of vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also rich in fiber and is believed to help aid in healthy digestion. The juice of Bottle gourd is touted for its vitamin C and zinc content as well as for its ability to potentially regulate blood sugar levels. In India, the juice is popularly consumed as a health-benefiting beverage. Caution should be used however as to never consume Bottle gourd juice that has developed a bitter flavor as it may contain toxins that can cause ulcers, extreme harm to the digestive track and in some cases even fatality.
Young Bottle gourd is used most often in cooked applications. When very young it can be utilized with skin on or when slightly more mature the skin can be removed for a more tender texture. When young Bottle gourd can be used in a fashion similar to that of zucchini. It can be sautéed, fried, pickled, or grilled. Add cubed Bottle gourd to curries or grate and add to batter for quick breads, cakes and fritters. More mature Bottle gourd is great for slow roasting, baking and pureeing for soups and stews. Mature Bottle gourd is also ideal for hollowing out slightly, stuffing, and baking. In Northern India Bottle gourd is combined with channa dal to make a dish known as lauki channa. In Maharashtra, India, the skin of the Bottle gourd is used to make a chutney preparation. In China, where it is known as Opo, it is popularly used in stir fries and soups, or stuffed and steamed. In Central America, the seeds are toasted and ground with rice, cinnamon and allspice to make a beverage known as horchata. Its flavor and texture pair well with eggplant, tomato, onion, Chile peppers, fennel, ginger, garlic, chickpeas, lentils, coconut milk, pork, shellfish and roasted meats. To store, keep Bottle gourd dry and refrigerated. For best flavor and texture use within two to three weeks.
Bottle gourd can be found growing year-round in tropical climates.