Bitterness in zucchini squash and cucumber

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The month of May kicks off the courgette season , one of the most loved and versatile vegetables. Tonda fiorentina , tonda di Piacenza , striata d’Italia , chiara di Bologna , alberello di Sarzana , lunga di Sicilia , bianca di Trieste , nano verde di Milano : in addition to the record numbers relating to the tons of courgettes produced, in Italy there are really many also the varieties that lovers of this vegetable can find in farmers’ markets or in the fruit and vegetable counter of the supermarket.

Why do zucchini turn bitter?

But has it ever happened to you, while preparing your favorite zucchini-based dish, to peck some with a particularly bitter taste ? If yes, have you ever wondered why courgettes become bitter ? Probably someone will have mistakenly thought – taking other types of vegetables or fruits as an example – that they have purchased an underripe product, but the reasons why this vegetable can sometimes have a different flavor from what we are used to are in truth different and not necessarily linked to ripening (courgettes, or courgettes, if you prefer, must in fact be harvested when they are still unripe). In fact, it is the cucurbitacin that makes the zucchini bitter, a substance that the plant produces when subjected to conditions of severe stress (excessive heat and drought), during the cultivation period or as self-defense against parasites. The concentration of cucurbitacin , usually low, can however also increase when the zucchini remains on the plant for too long, or if too much time has passed since it was harvested. 

How to avoid it

What precautions can therefore be taken to avoid buying bitter zucchini? The first advice is to choose young vegetables (15 or 20 centimeters long) with a more delicate flavour, buy them only if they are in season (although they are now available all year round), prefer the more firm ones, with a shiny skin and free of any kind cutting. Finally, to check the freshness of the courgette and its non-acidity, you can press the opposite side of the stalk: if it yields and does not appear firm, there is a good chance that the courgette in question is not the best.And if all this were not enough? Well, you can always cut the courgettes into slices, sprinkle them with salt and leave them in a colander for an hour (the technique is also used for aubergines). 

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