The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity



Garden to Table

July 31, 2007


There is one word to describe the incredible, edible zucchini, and that word is… prolific. Come harvest time, farmers will often joke about having to give the sweet, crunchy veggie away. It’s not uncommon to find baskets of zucchini left anonymously on country doorsteps.

Zucchini comes from the Italian word “zucchino” meaning little squash, but its taste is anything but small. Zucchini has a nuttier, zestier flavor than other summer squashes, and tastes at home in both sweet and savory dishes. Dark green, glossy and smooth, the versatile zucchini – a relative of cucumbers and melons – has inspired the creation of numerous mouth-watering recipes since its earliest Mexican origins.
“Zucchini has a pleasing, mild flavor and is able to take on the spices and flavors of those ingredients it's cooked with,” says Charlie Nardozzi, a Horticulturist for the National Gardening Association.

As a summer season vegetable, zucchini is easily injured by frost and freezes. That means zucchini seeds should be planted in the spring, in loamy, well-drained soil, about one to one a half inches deep in beds 36 to 48 inches wide. Zucchini thrives just about anywhere in the U.S., as long as it’s planted in the warmer months to mature about 60 days after seeding. Ideal soil temperature conditions hover at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Like all squash, zucchini has both male and female blooms, so bees are needed for pollination. When preparing for harvest, the zucchini should be checked daily as the plant grows extremely quickly in the heat. Harvesting typically occurs when the zucchini is still young, at about six to eight inches in length and two a half inches in diameter. Some larger varieties may also be edible. There are as many as 20 varieties; the most widely available are “Black Beauty” and “Raven.”

“Gold Rush” is a yellow skinned zucchini.

Nardozzi suggests storing fresh zucchini in the refrigerator, for no more than a week. After that, this delicate veggie starts to deteriorate. For longer shelf life, choose zucchini that are nicely colored, firm and shiny. Smaller zucchini tend to be tender; larger zucchini may have fewer seeds.

Composed of almost 95% water, one serving of zucchini (about 3.5 ounces) contains 20 calories, no fat, one gram of fiber and no sodium. Zucchini is also a good source of vitamins C and A, folate and beta-carotene.

"Just don't plant too many zucchini plants or your friends and neighbors will grow tired of the free ‘gifts’ from your garden. You'll be begging for people to take them away," says Nardozzi.