The zucchini (also courgette) is a summer squash which often grows to nearly a meter in length, but which is usually harvested at half that size or less. It is a hybrid of the cucumber. Along with certain other squashes, it belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo. In North America and Australia the plant is commonly called a zucchini. This derives from the prevalent name in Italy, zucchino (small pumpkin). The name courgette is a French loan word and is commonly used in Great Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.
Zucchini, like all squash, has its ancestry in the Americas. However, the varieties of squash typically called "zucchini" were developed in Italy, many generations after their introduction from the "New World". In all probability, this occurred in the very late 19th century, probably near Milan; early varieties usually included the names of nearby cities in their names. Another food gift from the indigenous peoples of the new world: Modern day squash developed from the wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico. While squash has been consumed for over 10,000 years, they were first cultivated specifically for their seeds since earlier squashes did not contain much flesh and what they did contain was very bitter and unpalatable. As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and like other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina.
The zucchini has a delicate flavor and requires little more than quick cooking with butter or olive oil, with or without fresh herbs. The skin is left in place. Quick cooking of barely wet zucchini in oil or butter allows the fruit to partially boil and steam, with the juices concentrated in the final moments of frying when the water has gone, prior to serving. Zucchini can also be eaten raw, sliced or shredded in a cold salad, as well as lightly cooked in hot salads, as in Thai or Vietnamese recipes. Mature (larger sized) zucchini, while not often eaten by themselves, are well suited for cooking in breads.
Like other members of the summer squash group, zucchini are a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte; helps reduce blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium. Furthermore, zucchinis, especially golden skin variety are rich in flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds help scavenge harmful oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the body that play a role in aging and various disease process. In addition, they are also good in B-complex group of vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc and potassium. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids, helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure.
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