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and the flowers (especially the surplus male flowers) of several species are sometimes eaten, and they, too, are sources of vitamins and minerals. In some species, the seeds are roasted and consumed as a snack and are often more prized than the flesh that surrounds them. The seeds can have protein and oil contents of 30–40 percent.

Five richly flavored Andean cucurbits are discussed below.


Zapallo (Winter Squash). The squash2 (Cucurbita maxima), called “zapallo” (pronounced za-pie-oh) in the Andes, is of exclusively South American origin. Its center of diversity lies in northern Argentina, Bolivia, southern Peru, and northern Chile, but by the 1400s it had been spread northward throughout the warmer parts of the Inca realm.3 At the time of Columbus, it was still confined to South America, but today it is widely grown throughout the world, particularly in Europe, India, the Philippines, and the United States. It is a winter-type4 squash and includes the table vegetable most often called “pumpkin,” as well as many common vegetables called “squash.”

More tolerant to cool temperatures than other squashes, this species is grown as far south as the limits of agriculture in Chile. Using this species, Chile and Peru have developed the most gigantic form of all commercial “pumpkins.” Fruits of 20–40 kg are commonly found in markets.

This squash is noted for its rich diversity—some authorities claim it has more forms than any other cultivated plant. In the main, the fruits are cylindrical, often bulbous, and have a central cavity filled with fibers and seeds. Some brightly colored, highly attractive varieties have become extremely popular specialty vegetables in the United States in recent years. Chilean varieties that have become common foods in the United States include Acorn, Banana, Boston Marrow, Buttercup, Golden Delicious, and Hubbard.

Crookneck. This species (Cucurbita moschata) is apparently Mexican or Central American in origin. However, it must have been spread widely in prehistoric times because its center of diversity extends as

2 The common names of cucurbits are a muddle. Names such as “pumpkin” and “squash” are used for different species in different countries. There are no internationally recognized common names for Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, and C. ficifolia.
3 A recent excavation in northern Argentina has disclosed a wealth of well-preserved specimens, suggesting that it was a common cultivated plant in northern Argentina at least as long ago as 500 B.C.
4 The name refers to an ability to be stored through the winter, not an ability to grow in the cold.

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