This is a completely revised, expanded, and updated version of my original post on “Zucchini 101 – The Basics.” If you have any questions about zucchini, from what it is, to suggested recipe links, this should help!
Zucchini 101 – The Basics (UPDATE)
Zucchinis are a type of summer squash that is a member of a large family of plants, Cucurbitaceae. They are members of the gourd family and are cousins to winter squashes, cucumbers, and melons.
The variety found most commonly in American grocery stores has deep, dark green skins. However, zucchinis may also be striped or speckled with colors varying from light green to yellow. They can grow long and cylindrical, but in America, most are picked when they are young and under 8-inches long.
Summer squashes are native to North America, especially the central and southern regions of what is now the United States. Wild summer squash varieties still grow in northern parts of Mexico. It didn’t take long before the plants were domesticated and grown throughout North America, Central America and South America. Today, they are grown and enjoyed around the world.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Zucchinis supply a lot of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, fiber, phosphorus, potassium, folate, Vitamin B6, Vitamin K, and Vitamin B1. They also supply some iron, calcium, zinc and other B-vitamins. One cup of cooked zucchini has a mere 17 calories, so eat all you want!
Antioxidant Benefits. Zucchinis are rich in antioxidants, including the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These compounds help to protect us from damage by free radicals in the body. Antioxidants help to protect our eyes, skin, and cardiovascular system along with reducing our risk for various types of cancers. The skin of zucchinis contains the most antioxidants, so don’t peel your zucchini, if possible.
Promotes Healthy Digestion. Zucchinis are about 95% water. That water helps to soften stools, reducing the chances of developing constipation. Zucchinis also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to keep cholesterol in check by removing bile from the body. This forces the body to make more bile, using existing blood cholesterol in the process. Soluble fiber also helps to feed the beneficial bacteria living in the gut. The bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids in the process, which in turn, nourishes our intestinal cells, and may also reduce inflammation and symptoms of some bowel diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools, helping to ward off constipation.
May Reduce Blood Sugar Levels. The fiber in zucchini helps to stabilize blood sugar levels after a meal. This may be especially helpful to people with Type 2 diabetes. Research studies have shown that diets rich in fiber from fruits and vegetables are consistently linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Animal studies have found that antioxidants in zucchini peel may help to reduce blood sugar and insulin levels. This, in turn, may help to reduce insulin resistance.
May Strengthen Vision. The Vitamin C coupled with the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin found in zucchini are known for improving vision and reducing the risk of age-related eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and cataracts. These conditions are leading causes of vision loss in older adults.
Other Possible Benefits. With the specific nutrients found in zucchinis, they may prove to be beneficial for bone, thyroid, and prostate health. They may even have anticancer properties. More research is needed, but the outcomes look promising.
How to Select Zucchini
Select fresh zucchinis that are smooth and firm, but with a tender skin. They should feel heavy for their size and have little to no blemishes on the skin. Avoid any with signs of mold at the stem end, and those that are wrinkled. Smaller to average size zucchini will be more tender and flavorful than larger ones.
How to Store Zucchini
Store fresh zucchini whole, dry, and unwashed in the refrigerator. They will keep well in a covered container that was lined with a paper towel or cotton cloth to absorb any moisture that is released by the squash. They may also be kept in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator with the vent closed to allow for a higher humidity environment. Use your fresh zucchini within 7 days of purchase.
How to Prepare Zucchini
Wash your zucchini right before you are ready to use it. Cut both ends off. The skin is edible and contains many nutrients, so it is beneficial to leave the peel on. However, cut off any blemishes. Then cut the zucchini into whatever size pieces you need. The seeds do not need to be removed.
How to Preserve Zucchini
If you have an overabundance of zucchini, it may be frozen for later use. However, be aware that when used, it will be very soft and not have the same texture as fresh zucchini. Frozen zucchini is appropriate only for cooking applications, not raw.
Freezing Zucchini. To freeze zucchini, wash it well and cut off both ends. Slice it into rounds and place it in boiling water for 2 minutes. Then immediately transfer them to a bowl of cold water to cool. Allow them to chill for 2 minutes. Then drain them well and place them in airtight freezer containers or bags. Label with the current date, and use it within one year. To keep the slices from freezing into one big lump, you could first spread the blanched and cooled slices on a parchment paper-lined tray in a single layer. Place that in the freezer until the slices are frozen. Then transfer them to your freezer container or bag. This method will allow you to remove as much or as little of the frozen pieces as you need, rather than dealing with a big lump of frozen slices at one time.
Dehydrating Zucchini. Zucchini may be dehydrated, but some resources do not recommend it because the outcome may be “poor to fair.” To dehydrate zucchini, prepare, slice, and blanch your zucchini as detailed above. Then spread the slices in a single layer on a mesh dehydrator sheet. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for the recommended time and temperature for drying your zucchini. They are considered to be dried when they are crispy and have no signs of moisture inside when broken in half. Store your dried zucchini pieces in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Remove as much air as you can from the container. For extended length of storage, it is helpful to place an oxygen absorber in the container.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Zucchini
* Zucchini is about 95% water with a lot of the nutrients found in the skin. So, for the most nutritional value, refrain from peeling zucchini if you can.
* Add raw zucchini to salads.
* Stuff zucchini with rice, lentils or vegetables then bake it for an easy and decorative meal.
* Spiralize zucchini and serve it with your favorite pasta sauce.
* Thinly slice zucchini lengthwise and use it as a substitute for lasagna noodles.
* If you grow your own zucchini, the blossoms are edible. They can be enjoyed raw or cooked in salads, soups, or stews.
* Try adding grated zucchini to breads, muffins, cakes, pancakes, and even veggie burgers.
* Try grilled or sautéed zucchini as a side dish. Flavor it with a little garlic, onion, and herbs of choice, such as basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, or dill.
* Add grated zucchini to soups.
* Try adding grated zucchini to sandwiches and wraps.
* Try stir-steaming zucchini with onions, bell peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Top with your favorite tomato sauce and enjoy!
* Serve slices of raw zucchini with your favorite dip or hummus.
* When you’re shopping for zucchini, and especially if you’re growing them, pick ones that are smaller, rather than larger. Although they can grow extremely large, the bigger ones develop very tough skins and seeds, which will need to be removed in order to eat the flesh. The smaller ones are much more tender and the entire thing can be eaten, allowing you to enjoy the full nutritional benefits of the squash.
* Although we treat zucchinis as a vegetable, they are actually a fruit.
* If you have a recipe that calls for zucchini, and you don’t have enough, you can substitute yellow squash in any recipe calling for zucchini.
* One pound of zucchini is about 3 medium zucchinis, and about 3 cups sliced.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Zucchini
Basil, Cajun seasoning blends, capers, cayenne, chervil, chili pepper flakes, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, curry powder, dill, garam masala, Italian seasoning blend, lemon thyme, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, salt, tarragon, thyme, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Zucchini
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Bacon, beans (in general), beef, chicken, chickpeas, eggs, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pork, poultry, seafood, tahini, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, bell peppers, carrots, chiles, chives, eggplant, garlic, ginger, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, yellow squash
Fruits: Apples, citrus fruits (in general), lemons, limes, olives, oranges, pumpkin, raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Bread crumbs, bulgur, corn, couscous, millet, noodles, pasta, polenta, quinoa, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (esp. cheddar, feta, mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta), coconut milk, mascarpone, yogurt
Other Foods: Oils (esp. olive, sunflower, walnut), tamari, vinegar (esp. balsamic, champagne, red wine, sherry, white wine), zucchini blossoms
Zucchini have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e., breads, cakes, muffins, quick breads), carpaccio, chips (vegetable), curries, egg dishes (frittatas, omelets, quiches, scrambled), gratins, lasagna, pasta dishes, pesto, pilafs, pizza, ratatouille, risottos, salads, sauces, soups (i.e., potato, tomato, vegetable, zucchini), stir-fries, tagines, tempura, veggie burgers, zucchini (stuffed)
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Zucchini
Add zucchini to any of the following combinations…
Arugula + Lemon + Olive Oil + Parmesan Cheese
Balsamic Vinegar + Eggplant + Tomatoes
Basil + Garlic + Olive Oil + Parmesan + Pistachios
Basil + Lemon + Ricotta Cheese
Basil + Nuts (i.e., almonds, pine nuts, pistachios)+ Parmesan Cheese
Bell Peppers + Eggplant + Garlic + Parsley
Chiles + Cilantro + Corn + Garlic + Tomatoes
Cinnamon + Chocolate
Cinnamon + Nutmeg + Nuts + Raisins + Vanilla
Citrus + Mint
Coconut + Ginger
Dill + Feta Cheese + Lemon + Mint
Feta Cheese + Garlic + Parsley
Garlic + Lemon
Garlic + Lemon + Mascarpone + Nutmeg + Parsley [over pasta]
Garlic + Mint + Olive Oil + Vinegar
Garlic + Olive Oil + Oregano + Parmesan Cheese + Tomatoes
Ginger + Orange + Tofu
Lemon + Mint + Parmesan Cheese
Lemon + Mint + Pine Nuts + Yogurt
Lemon + Olive Oil + Ricotta Cheese + Thyme
Marjoram + Ricotta Cheese + Tomatoes
Mushrooms + Polenta
Nutmeg + Parmesan Cheese + Parsley
Pine Nuts + Raisins + Rice
Red Peppers + Eggplant + Onions + Tomatoes
Zucchini with Italian Herbs and Tomatoes [Judi in the Kitchen video] https://youtu.be/WjrEHb9Mqds
Easy Zucchini Pasta Soup [Judi in the Kitchen video] https://youtu.be/DqIpmAJAdso
Pasta with Zucchini, Mushrooms, and Tomato Sauce https://www.judiklee.com/2019/10/29/pasta-with-zucchini-mushrooms-and-tomato-sauce/
Simple Warm Zucchini Salad [Judi in the Kitchen video] https://youtu.be/eg805gkG0mM
5-Minute Healthy Sautéed Summer Squash http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=318
Steamed Vegetable Medley http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=58
Primavera Verde http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=166
Any Time Frittata http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=124
Grilled Vegetable Burrito https://www.spicesinc.com/p-3793-grilled-vegetable-burrito.aspx
32 Summer Squash Recipes https://www.thespruceeats.com/summer-squash-recipes-4684640
Top 34 Best Zucchini Recipes https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-zucchini-recipes-3062417
Quick and Easy Recipes for Zucchini Blossoms https://www.thespruceeats.com/quick-easy-recipes-for-zucchini-blossoms-2217741
Sautéed Zucchini https://www.thespruceeats.com/simple-sauteed-zucchini-recipe-2098696
Easy and Delicious Zucchini Recipes https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-and-delicious-zucchini-recipes-2217746
17 Creative Ways to Use Zucchini You Haven’t Tried https://www.eatthis.com/creative-zucchini-ideas/
50+ Zucchini Recipes That Are Easy, Healthy, and Delicious https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/g562/zucchini-recipes/
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.