Above: first meeting between long-lost cousins, featuring Vasuki.
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Trichosanthes cucumerina (Cucumerina? If anyone needs a cucurbit-themed drag name…..)
COMMON NAMES: snake gourd, serpent gourd, chichinda, padwal. Some varieties of calabash with skinny, twisty fruits may be called “snake gourds” as well, but Trichosanthes is snakier.
ORIGIN: Found wild throughout southern Asia, the Pacific Islands and northern Australia and also cultivated in Africa, snake gourd was likely domesticated in India, where it is widely enjoyed today, especially fried or in curry. References to various gourds including snake gourd and the ubiquitous calabash can be found in the Rig Veda, a series of Hindu religious texts dating back to 1700 BCE that represent some of the oldest surviving religious literature in the world. In Sanskrit, the snake gourd was called patola or tiktapatola, a name still in use for some other gourd species.
- A related species called Chinese snake gourd (Trichosanthes kirilowii) is counted among the Fifty Fundamental Herbs that form the backbone of Chinese herbology. Believed to have beneficial effects on the lungs and other organs, it must be used with caution, as it contains a toxic protein called trichosanthin. (Note that our edible snake gourd is just that: edible, and totally safe. Don’t judge him based on his relatives.)
- The beautiful, fragrant flowers of the snake gourd vine resemble delicate white lace. As they unfurl only at night, they are mainly pollinated by hawk-moths. (Remember the moth with a skull on its back from Silence of the Lambs? That’s a hawk-moth.)
- As in some other gourd species, snake gourd is too bitter to eat when fully ripened. The inner pulp of the mature fruit is a reddish-orange color and can be used as a substitute for tomato paste.
- Snake gourds hang down from their high-climbing vine and may twist or curl as they develop. Some farmers suspend weights from the young fruits so they grow straight, purely for aesthetics.
FLAVOR: Refreshing and similar to cucumber, but the texture is less crunchy and more fleshy, like a zucchini. Unlike cucumber, snake gourd holds up well to cooking. However, before cooking the sliced gourd pieces it’s recommended to salt them, let sit for 10-15 minutes and squeeze out the excess water.