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. It is also called courgette, a variation of the French word courge, meaning squash, or referred to as a ‘marrow’ vegetable in Britain. Widely considered a vegetable, botanically, zucchini is a fruit. Many dishes include use of both the squash (raw or cooked) and its delicate flower (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 has grown steadily in the last decade. 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.
References: University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Illinois Extension
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Color 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. Most 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 many varieties and hybrids are Ambassador, Aristocrat, Black Beauty, Blacknini, Classic, Eight Ball, Elite, Gold Rush, Greenbay, Mexican Globe, Payload, Seneca, Senator, Spineless Beauty, and Tigress.
References: North Carolina Cooperative Extension, University of Georgia, University of Illinois Extension, University of Wisconsin Extension.