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Opo squash has a lengthy, cylindrical-shape and is typically harvested when ten to fifteen inches in length. Its smooth skin varies from a light green to chartreuse and encases a creamy white flesh and petite seeds. When young the seeds are tender and edible but when the squash becomes more mature the seeds become hard and should be removed prior to consumption. Opo squash offers a mild flavor reminiscent to a blend of summer squash and cucumber with a firm yet tender to the bite texture.
Opo squash is available year-round.
Opo squash, botanically a part of Lagenaria siceraria is an Oriental squash and a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. Botanically it is actually a variety of gourd though it is culinarily utilized as a summer squash. The Opo squash is a calabash type squash and is closely related to and depending upon location grown sometimes also referred to as Cucuzza, Bottle gourd, Tasmania bean and Snake gourd. In China it is referred to as Opo and Hulu or Moa Gua when it is the variety where the skin is covered in hairs.
Opo squash is extremely low in calories and provides small amounts of vitamin C, folate, calcium, iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also rich in fiber and is believed to help aid in healthy digestion. The juice of Opo squash is touted for its vitamin C and zinc content as well as for its ability to potentially regulate blood sugar levels. In India the juice is popularly consumed as a health benefiting beverage, caution should be used however as to not ever consume Opo juice that has developed a bitter flavor as it may contain toxins that can be extremely harmful to the digestive track and can cause ulcers and even be fatal.
Opo squash is used most often in cooked applications. When young it can be utilized with skin on or when more mature the skin can be removed for a more tender texture. Young Opo squash can be used in a fashion similar to that of zucchini. In China cubed Opo squash is popularly added to soups, stews and stir-fries or grated and used in batter for quick breads and fritters. More mature Opo squash can be slow roasted or pureed and added to sauces and soups. In China the Opo squash is also popularly hollowed out slightly, stuffed then steamed or baked. Its flavor and texture pair well with eggplant, cabbage, bitter greens, onion, spicy peppers, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, coconut milk, pork, seafood and sausage. To store keep Opo squash dry and refrigerated, best used within two to three weeks.
In addition to being a food source when young the mature, dried Opo squash is used throughout Asia for an array of alternative uses. In China the dried Opo is seen as a symbol for health and is believed to absorb negative energies that could harm the body. In ancient China doctors were also known to carry medicine inside the dried squash for use in treating the sick. In Chinese culture Opo squash were also for a time grown in molds to form varying shapes then dried, carved decoratively and used to house pet crickets, the gourd providing not only a home for the crickets but amplifying their sound and creating a musical instrument of sorts as well. In India when dried the Opo squash has long been used to make the base of musical instruments such as the sitar. In the Hindu faith dried Opo gourd is used as a vessel in ceremonies and called the kamandalu.
Calabash squashes such as the Opo are believed to be one of the first cultivated plants of the world and were domesticated more than 10,000 years ago in Africa. Throughout time it has made its way across the world via human migration and today is known by many different names depending upon where it is found. The name Opo is used predominately in China though it can be found by that name outside of China in markets, restaurants and from growers who specialize in Chinese cuisine, culture and crops. In the Philippines it is known as Upo, in Korea as Bak and in Japan as Yugao. Like all calabash squashes the Opo needs a long, warm growing season and should be trellised or grown near a vertical support to keep the large fruits off the ground and provide air circulation around them allowing them to grow long and straight.
Recipes that include Opo Squash. One is easiest, three is harder.