Zucchini, a member of the summer squash family of cucurbits (Cucurbita pepo), owes its name to the Italian word for a small pumpkin or squash, zucchina.
Historians believe squash was first grown in Central and South America, then taken to Europe where Italians more fully developed summer cultivars such as zucchini.
Zucchini is also called courgette, a variation of the French word courge, meaning squash, or referred to as a ‘marrow’ vegetable in Great Britain.
Widely considered a vegetable, botanically, zucchini is a fruit. Many dishes include use of both (raw or cooked) squash as well as its delicate flowers (frequently battered and fried).
Although zucchini can grow up to several feet in length, most is harvested and consumed while immature, before the hardening of seeds and rinds and a corresponding loss of flavor and quality. In South Africa, zucchini is mostly grown and harvested as a baby vegetable, called baby marrow.
Generally the most popular of the summer squashes, demand for zucchini continues to grow steadily in the United States. It can be grown nearly anywhere with consistently warm summer temperatures. To keep up with demand, the United States is the world’s top importer, sourcing primarily from Mexico.
Types & Varieties
Zucchini coloring ranges from light green to very dark, almost black-green, can be striped or speckled, and is usually smooth, straight, and cylindrical with a glossy surface.
Other variations include golden or white zucchini (though the latter is often considered a mutation), and rounder, ball-shaped varieties.
Average size ranges from 5 to 6 inches for shorter varieties (for example, Caserta) to well over a foot for longer types like Cocozelle. Overall, most zucchini are harvested in the 7- to 8-inch range. Baby fingerling zucchini, as its names suggests, is picked when only a few inches long.
Among the varieties and hybrids are Ambassador, Aristocrat, Black Beauty, Blacknini, Classic, Eight Ball, Elite, Gold Rush, Greenbay, Mexican Globe, Payload, Seneca, Spineless Beauty, and Tigress.
Zucchini grows rapidly in temperate climates with full sun and loamy soil, producing both male and female flowers (though only the females produce fruit).
Overly plentiful male flowers should be culled every few days, and mature zucchini left on the vine will prevent additional fruit from growing.
Most fruit grows within a week of flowering with optimum tenderness when at 6 to 8 inches in length, a diameter of 3 to 4 inches, and thin, wrinkleless skin with no soft spots.
Care should be taken in handling immature zucchini, as the fruit is prone to bruising and scratches.