Your Guide to Gluten-Free Gourds

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Gourds, those hard-shelled fruits (yes, fruits!) – also known as squashes – that come from a flowering plant, are not just for decorative centerpieces and seasonal displays. Gourds are nutritious and naturally gluten-free. In addition to eating the gourd flesh – and in some cases the rind – you can eat gourd seeds, typically by cleaning and roasting them. 

Whether you call gourds a fruit or a vegetable, research shows the importance of eating plenty of vegetables and fruits to reduce chronic disease risk and improve health. Gourds contain “carotenoids,” the same pigment that turns carrots orange. Your body turns carotenoids into vitamin A which is good for vision and healthy skin. Gourds also contain other important vitamins and minerals, too.  

While the uncooked gourd adds a decorative touch to the table, cooked gourds add visual appeal to the plate with their vibrant colors. Take advantage of their shapes and use them as vessels for stuffing. Scoop the seeds out of a cooked squash and get creative. For example, add rice with dried cranberries into the hollowed-out gourd for a beautiful way to serve a side dish. 

Let’s take a closer look at gourds of various shapes, sizes, colors, and textures and learn why they can be healthy and delicious additions to gluten-free meals or even eaten as the main course. 

Pumpkin 

This celebrated gourd inspired the ever-popular “pumpkin spice” craze and is traditionally seen on Thanksgiving dinner tables as decoration across the U.S. for years.  

Looks Like: Bright orange rind with shallow ridges 

Tastes Like: Mild, earthy, sweet 

Nutrition Highlight: Low calorie and nutrient dense, you can get over 200% of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin A from a one cup serving in the form of beta carotene and alpha carotene. 

Recipe Idea: Slow Cooker Tuscan Pumpkin Soup from Real Food, Whole Life. NOTE: You can roast fresh pumpkin and puree it or, for an easier prep, use canned pumpkin. When you use fresh pumpkin, serve the soup in the cleaned-out pumpkin for a festive presentation. 

Recipe contributed by Sheila Horine, Branch Manager for Gluten Intolerance Group of Asheville 

Acorn  

This gourd easily performs as a sweet or savory dish. Sauté it with onions, make a pie instead of using pumpkin, or roast it in the oven with butter and cinnamon. 

Looks Like: Dark green and yellow rind (sometimes whiteish or with bright orange patches) with deep ridges and yellowish, stringy flesh. 

Tastes Like: Sweet, nutty 

Nutrition Highlight: It’s got good Daily Values of B vitamins: 23% of the DV of Thiamine (vitamin B1), 20% of Pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and 10% of Folate (vitamin B9). It’s also one of the highest fiber-containing gourds. 

Spaghetti squash  

If you’re looking for a gluten-free substitute for spaghetti noodles, look no further than this gourd. Cut it in half, remove the seeds, and bake until tender. Take a fork and pull it through the open squash, and watch it turn into spaghetti-like strands. Spoon your favorite pasta sauce on top and enjoy! 

Looks Like: Ivory, yellow, or orange rind with long, stringy pale-yellow flesh. 

Tastes Like: Mild, neutral flavor 

Nutrition Highlight: High in beta-carotene. 

Barbara Bingham, Branch Leader of GIG of North Kansas City, says she cooks her squashes this way: 
 
Ingredients 
2 teaspoons butter 
½ teaspoon seasoned salt 
½ teaspoon onion powder 
½ teaspoon chili powder 

Instructions 

  1. Slit the skin of the squash five times (like you do with potatoes.) 
  2. Place in microwave for five minutes. 
  3. If not soft after five minutes, add another three minutes. 
  4. Carefully cut in half and remove seeds 
  5. In a small microwave-safe bowl, add butter and seasonings until melted 
  6. Mix melted seasoning into the squash, using a fork to pull strings parts 
  7. Serve and enjoy! 

Delicata  

This thin-skinned gourd doesn’t require peeling or extensive cooking to soften its rind. Slice and roast for a perfectly easy-to-make gluten-free side dish. This gourd tends to be smaller than others, so it is ideal for adding to a one- or two-person meal. 

Looks Like: Pale yellow rind with green or orange stripes 

Tastes Like: Sweeter than most other gourds 

Nutrition Highlight: Higher in fiber than most other gourds, and high in potassium with 15% of the DV in a one-cup serving. 

Recipe idea: Check out Wild Rice and Kale Stuffed Delicata Squash from Delish Knowledge

Kabocha  

Also known as a Japanese pumpkin, you can roast or steam this gourd with great results. 

Looks Like: Bumpy, dark green rind and yellow-orange flesh 

Tastes Like: A combination of sweet potato and pumpkin. The wonderful taste and texture are often compared to that of roasted chestnuts. 

Nutrition Highlight: Loaded with beta-carotene and if you eat it with the skin, you can boost the fiber content. 

Recipe idea: Use to make gluten-free gnocchi. https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/gluten-free-winter-squash-gnocchi 

Butternut  

You can eat this shapely gourd with the rind if you cook it well, or you can peel it off before cooking. 

Looks Like: Smooth yellowish or tan rind with bright orange flesh 

Tastes Like: Sweet, nutty (not buttery, despite the name) 

Nutrition Highlight: You’ll get 48% of your DV of vitamin C plus about 15% the DV of potassium. High in fiber, too. 

Recipe Idea: Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto 

Recipe contributed by Amy Fothergill, from her book The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Everyone Will Love and Anyone Can Make 

This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free (with butter substitute), vegetarian, and can be made vegan with substitutes. 

Ingredients 

2 teaspoons olive oil 

2-3 shallots, minced (can substitute in medium onion, chopped)  

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper 

1-2 garlic cloves, minced 

1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt 

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2-3 cups)  

1/4 cup dry white wine or sherry (optional) 

1 cup arborio rice 

½ – 4 cups gluten-free chicken or vegetable broth, heated to just boiling  

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or butter substitute 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (if you don’t have fresh sage, add teaspoon of dried sage in step 1 with the shallots – or if you don’t have sage handy, thyme would be a great substitute.) 

Instructions 

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the shallots or onion with pepper until soft and golden. Add garlic and salt and stir for 1 minute.
  2. Add chopped squash and cook until squash begins to soften. 
  3. Add the cooking wine and cook until it is evaporated, 1-2 minutes. Add rice and cook for a few minutes, stirring. Rice should turn translucent. 
  4. Begin to add hot broth, 1 cup at first. Stir every 2-3 minutes and add more broth after the last addition has been absorbed, about½ to 1 cup at a time. Make sure rice is simmering but not boiling. Check after about 18 minutes or when the rice looks cooked. Taste rice. It should be slightly firm and not mushy. If you need more liquid and don’t have broth, add hot water. You may need some liquid at the end to loosen the risotto before serving. 
  5. Add butter or butter substitute right before serving to add extra creaminess. Add chopped sage. Serve immediately. 

  

As you can see, there are so many ways to eat gourds and so many reasons why they’re a wonderful complement to any meal.