Mexican squash (calabaza)
Squash, the genus Cucurbita of the Cucurbitaceae family, is a vegetable unique to the Americas. Most species grow in Mexico as Mexico is at the center of squash diversity.
Unique to the Americas, archeologists found chilacayote seeds (squash unique to Central America) dated to approximately 700 B.C., in the valley of Oaxaca.
Furthermore, archaeobotanical studies in Mexico suggest that squash (zuchini and pipiana pumpkins) may have been domesticated more than 10,000 years ago, the first domesticated species on the continent. Thus, pumpkin cultivation in Central America has been carried out for thousands of years.
Squash come from a creeping, climbing and subshrub plant. The plant is characterized by large leaves with deep lobes. The flowers are yellow and there are separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The flowers are pollinated by various insects, including bees, thus promoting hybridization between related species. The flowers are also edible. The stem is covered with a thin layer of “hairs”.
Squash come from a creeping and climbing plant.
The stem is covered with a thin layer of “hairs”.
Squash plants are annual plants, that include zucchini, pumpkins, arotas, tamalas or tamalayotas, pipianas, chompas (tzompos) and chilacayotes.
Some of the domesticated squash species include:
- Pipiana, arota, spotted, tecomata, chihua (Cucurbita argyrosperma subsp. argyrosperma)
- Chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia)
- Kabocha, zapallo (Cucurbita maxima)
- Hairy squash, helmet-like, tamalayota, k´uum (Cucurbita moschata)
- Güicha, Castile, tsol, india (Cucurbita pepo subsp. pepo)
Squash plants are highly resistant plants that can develop almost anywhere. Squash is high in nutritional value.
Squash is high in nutritional value.
Wild pumpkins are greenish, globe-like with vertical stripes that are light green to beige. Wild pumpkins are not edible for humans, as they have high levels of cucurbitacins. Their taste is bitter. However, animals do consume them.
There are 15 species, with approximately 20 species/subspecies. 13 of these species are found in Mexico. 5 of the 11 wild species are endemic to Mexico.
Mexico is one of the top ten producers of pumpkins worldwide. Squash is mainly produced in the Mexican states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Tlaxcala, Nayarit, Hidalgo, Puebla and Morelos. High yields are obtained during the spring and summer months, and it is estimated that over 8,000 hectares are cultivated yearly.
In Mexico, the varieties that are considered the most popular are Creole zucchini, castile squash, Italian pumpkin, melon squash and kabocha squash.
The production of pumpkins in Mexico is considered profitable trade due to national and global demand. Much of the total production is destined for the international market such as Japan, Canada and the United States.
In Mexico, numerous products are made from squash and pumpkins. These include sweets, creams, oils, roasted seeds, puddings, and preserves. The flowers are used in soups and traditional Mexican cuisine.
In Mexico, squash flowers are used in soups and traditional Mexican cuisine.
In rural areas, squash has been used for medicinal purposes, and as soaps for saponins.
Image credit: CONABIO
Lira S. R., C., C. Rodríguez J., J. L. Alvarado, I. Rodríguez, J. Castrejon y A. Domínguez M. 1998. Diversidad e importancia de la Familia Cucurbitaceae en México. Acta Botánica Mexicana. 42:43-77.