Melons, Gourds, & Squashes: How are they Related?

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Gourds refer to most all fruits in the cucurbitaceae family, whereas melons and squashes are smaller groups, genuses (genera) within the plant family. Here's the lowdown on everything you need to know about this group of unique fruit-bearing plants.

From summer's peak into the fall, a class of produce comes into season as a regular at the farmer's market: the gourd family. Whether cucumbers, melons, zucchini, squashes or pumpkins, these crops are integral to cuisines worldwide, and they share some important botanical similarities.

Defining Gourds

Let's just get it out of the way: what is a gourd? There are 2 important definitions to know. The first sense is the one we'll primarily use for the purposes of this article, which is an informal grouping of all fruits of the cucurbitaceae family. Another sense worth knowing that we won't discuss much further is in a specific sense, referring to dried-out gourds, fruits of the Cucurbita or Lagenaria genuses.

The Gourd family

The Cucurbitaceae family of plants have key characteristics in common, starting with their fruits: they have a somewhat thick exterior skin, a watery, spongy interior, and a ribbed core of seeds. The gourd family grow on vines, and many prefer hotter climates. The family is divided into several genuses, and those consumed by people include: 

-Cucurbita (squashes, pumpkins, zucchini)
-Citrullus (watermelon)
-Cucumis (cucumbers, melons, muskmelons)
-Momordica (bitter melon)

Cooking Suggestions

If you're looking to add a little variety to your zucchini, pumpkin, or squash dishes, why not try swapping them for one within the same genus? And, when preparing a fruit salad with melon, why not consider adding cucumber? When you understand how these plants are related, it makes more sense to give such ideas a try. 

[We did, in fact, add cucumber to a recent fruit salad with a bit of lemon, olive oil, honey, fresh mint, and blackberries—it was a hit!]

We encourage you to try a gourd this week, whichever one suits your fancy! Here are 5 of our favorite recipes involving fruits of the cucurbitaceae family. :-)