Squashes are delicious – they possess a pleasantly mild flavor and a touch of sweetness that melts in our mouths. But are all squashes edible? We bet you don’t know.
Indeed, nowadays, there are many varieties of squashes and gourds out there that look alike and may give us the wrong idea that everything is safe and sound.
Yet, that might not be completely accurate. Thus, keep reading if you want to dig into the details and learn more about this topic.
Are All Squashes Edible? (Explained In Detail)
Although squashes are delicious, not all of them are edible. In detail, it’s advisable to steer clear of those decorative gourds and hybrid garden squashes.
Several varieties are poisonous and include cucurbitacins, which are very unpleasant and bitter compounds. Following consumption, they can quickly cause stomach problems, sickness, vomiting, and (often bloody) diarrhea, as well as severe dehydration necessitating hospitalization.
This situation also applies to some edible squash cultivated in the veggie patches, which turn unsafe for ingestion due to wild cross-breeding.
This scenario happens if inedible and edible kinds live side by side in the same or neighboring veggie fields, and farmers collect the seeds and re-sown season after season.
Do you know that the French Poison Control Centres (CAPs) get numerous reports about foodborne illnesses caused by the intake of inedible “squashes” every week?
Indeed, according to research involving inedible gourd poisonings documented by the CAPs throughout the 2012-2016 period, 353 individuals predominantly experienced stomach problems or a bitter flavor in their mouth.
Although none of the patients reported significant life-threatening problems (high severity), 4% of instances experienced severe or persistent signs (moderate severity), including blood diarrhea, significant stomach problems, exhaustion and (or) hypotension, and so forth.
Finally, when they could detect the supply origin, 54% of bitter gourds arrived from the organic veggie crops, while the remaining 46% were acquired from supermarkets and stores.
Edible and inedible squashes are hard to tell
Indeed, distinguishing the varieties is tricky: those hybridized inedible gourds appear much similar to edible ones. The most noticeable difference is that they possess a bitter flavor, different from the edible variety, which features a mild or somewhat sweet flavor.
Moreover, further retrospective research on poisonous vegetation and safe-to-eat plant misunderstanding was collected by the CAPs throughout the 2012-2018 period.
Surprisingly, among the 1159 cases documented, those misidentifying inedible gourds or colocynth for edible squash were the 3rd most common sort of confusion (8.5%), only after toxic bulb seedlings with edible bulbs (12%) and horse and sweet chestnuts (11%).
Pumpkins Vs. Gourds Vs. Squashes: Are They The Same?
People can easily get lost in this jargon and cannot differentiate these terms of pumpkins, gourds, and squashes. And, commonly, people equate them for one another.
Regarding their similarity, these 3 are all the members of the Cucurbitaceae group, which means these fruits all branch from herbaceous shrub vines.
However, like other plant families, their genes and nomenclature sometimes coincide with perplexing degrees, creating slight variations and differences.
Taxonomically, the term “pumpkin” doesn’t mean anything because it is simply a variant of squashes (butternut squash or acorn squash, for instance).
Meanwhile, the name “gourd” refers to a separate group of the Cucurbitaceae species. Gourds, different from squashes, feature hard skin and don’t possess lots of the “fleshy” pulp that usually makes squashes delicious.
In nearly all cases, farmers cultivate squashes primarily as food for humans, whereas the gourds solely serve ornamental purposes. Thus, whenever someone refers to fruits as a gourd, they mean “inedible squash.”
Decorative gourds like Colocynth are great examples. These fruits are poisonous in different levels and accessible commercially (often found in the fruit and vegetable department). Although they are dangerous, many people still cannot tell them apart from edible squashes.
Yet, such concepts are more capricious and situational than almost everything else. Indeed, sometimes, a fully mature pumpkin gets classified as a squash.
Mini pumpkins, those you would decorate in preschool, appear more similar to gourds since they are tiny, difficult to cut, and carry little edible content. After all, everything boils down to if it’ll be a nice meal or not.
Why Are Some Squashes And Gourds Poisonous?
Cucurbits are a flowering vine genus that includes cucumbers, melons, squashes, and pumpkins, all of which may be tasty and nutritious additions to your meal. Yet, if you are not cautious, they may make you extremely sick.
As previously stated, squashes and gourds contain a poison identified medically as cucurbitacin E., which can induce cucurbit toxicity, also referred to as toxic squash syndrome (not to be mistaken with toxic shock syndrome), in those who consume it.
According to a March 2018 study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 2 French ladies were pretty sick. They lost a lot of hair following 2 separate incidents of cucurbit poisoning.
But that doesn’t mean you must throw away all those succulent cucumbers or tasty zucchinis and squashes in your house. Even though this poison could become something fatal, this situation is scarce.
Cause of toxic squash syndrome
As a defense mechanism against pests, plants belonging to the Cucurbitaceae group generate the poisonous cucurbitacin.
Although natural squashes, cucumbers, and different cucurbits often carry significant levels of cucurbitacin, cultivated species usually offer so little toxicity that it does not affect people.
One of the most significant causes promoting higher cucurbitacin in squashes includes cross-pollination with wild species and severe stress throughout development, such as insufficient irrigation or deficient nutrition.
Cucurbit poisoning treatment
Cucurbit poisoning, like similar types of foodborne, will go away eventually. But that doesn’t mean it’s something to take lightly. Indeed, in 2015, a German guy died, and his spouse got hospitalized after consuming a considerable amount of poisonous zucchini in a stew.
Consider immediate medical assistance once you feel fatigued, suffer severe nausea or vertigo, develop persistent digestive problems, or suspect you have taken more than a mouthful or so of anything carrying significant concentrations of cucurbitacin.
How to avoid cucurbit poisoning
- Don’t consume decorative gourds (colocynth) as they are poisonous and not safe for ingestion. Also, read their packaging or seek assistance from the store’s personnel beforehand.
- Whether bought in the stores or cultivated in backyard veggie patches, edible squashes might not always be safe. Have a small bite of those raw squashes. If you taste the bitterness, spew it out and toss it: the squashes might be poisonous. Thus, it’s advisable not to consume them, even when cooked.
- Avoiding cross-pollination in vegetable patches also plays an important role. Do not consume “wild” squashes that have sprouted spontaneously. Also, never save seeds from past crops for re-sowing. Indeed, every time you intend to plant more seeds for your veggie patch, purchase new ones.
Now you know the answer to the question “Are all squashes edible?” Although consumption of inedible squashes and gourds doesn’t usually end up severe, there is still a slight chance it would turn fatal. Yet, it’s best not to consume such poisonous fruits at all. Good luck!