The opo squash is ideal for weight loss diets due to the very low content of calories. At the same time, it is packed with nutrients like folate, vitamins B and C, calcium, iron and zinc. It is beneficial for digestion due to the content of digestive fibers. The juice is valuable for the ability to regulate blood glucose levels, as well as a source of zinc and vitamin C. It is consumed as a healthy beverage in India. However, if the juice has turned bitter, it should be discarded. This is a sign that it has become toxic and is no longer fit for consumption. The juice that isn't fresh can contain compounds that hurt the intestines and can even be lethal in some cases. The opo squash provides just 14 calories in a serving of 100 grams, which makes it one of the vegetables with the lowest calories content. As a result, specialists often recommend it for weight loss diets. One important nutrient found in small amounts in the opo squash is folate. A serving supplies just 1.5% of the daily recommended amount. This compound is very important for mothers in their first weeks of pregnancy, because it prevents neural tube defects in infants. Opo squashed provide a limited amount of vitamin C when fresh, with 10 mg or 17% of the required daily intake found in a serving of 100 grams. This compound has many uses but it is best known for its antioxidant actions. It destroys the toxic chemicals named free radicals that trigger cell mutations and are one of the causes of cancer. Vitamin C is also a very effective booster of the immune system and makes it more resilient against pathogens. Including opo squashes in your diet can improve digestion due to the content of dietary fibers. Fibers can prevent constipation and indigestion by regulating the movement of food through the intestinal tract. Fresh squashes also supply other nutrients, even if the amounts are quite low. They provide minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc, as well as the vitamins niacin (vitamin B 3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B 5), pyridoxine (vitamin B 6) and thiamine (vitamin B1). When the plant is young, its tendrils and leaves can also be consumed. They are actually richer in vitamins and minerals than the mature fruit. Most gourd species are edible but many varieties, like the zucchini, can only be consumed when young. There are also inedible gourds, with a very bitter taste. Mature gourds no longer have pulp, which dries out leaving just a hard outer shell and the seeds inside. Fully developed shells are waterproof and can be used for various purposes when dried. They have been used to manufacture containers like bowls or water jugs, as well as cups, fish nets, music instruments, tribal decorative items or smoking pipes.
The opo squash is cultivated primarily for its edible fruit. Young squashes have soft skin and are usually eaten whole, the skin remains edible when they mature but it can be discarded because it has a harder texture. The young fruits can replace zucchinis in most recipes. Squash cubes are very popular in Chinese cuisine and they are mixed in fritters and quick breads or added as ingredients in stews, stir-fries and soups. Older fruits are turned into puree or roasted and then included in soups or sauces. Another very common dish consists of baked or steamed hollow opo squashes, with various fillings. They can be combined with sausages, seafood and pork meat, as well as other vegetables like bitter greens, onion, spicy peppers, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, coconut milk, eggplant or cabbage. Dry squashes can be stored for two or three weeks in the fridge.
Even if Lagenaria siceraria is usually associated with Asia today, the species is probably native to Africa. It has been carried away by humans since ancient times and cultivated in various warm areas of the world. Seeds are viable and offer an easy way to propagate this annual vine. After the last spring frost, the seeds can be planted in the ground as soon as temperatures reach 70 degrees F. They are best grouped in small mounds, the spacing depends on the availability of supports. About 3 inches between mounds are needed when cultivated on supports, additional spacing up to 6 inches is needed otherwise. In order to produce fruits that ripen properly, the vines need a long warm growth season. You can give them a head start by growing them indoors in small pots, after spring starts. They enjoy full sun exposure and soils with good drainage, with a content of sand or loam. They tolerate afternoon shade. Opo squashes need plenty of water for the best production results. The flowers open during the night and can be pollinated by hand in order to yield more fruits. They enjoy long summers, with hot temperatures and a lot of humidity. Opo plants are usually grown on supports but can also spread on the ground, covering a lot of space. Fruits grown for decorative purposes are always cultivated on supports, it is very important not to allow them to touch the ground in order to preserve a straight shape. Squashes are harvested in the autumn and a short section of stem is usually sectioned with the fruit.