The term “calabaza” sounds exotic. It is the Spanish language equivalent for what English refers to as “pumpkin”. Calabaza also refers to the calabassa, the West Indian pumpkin. In Cuba, Puerto Rico, and in Florida, cultivars of Cucurbita moschata are generally known as calabaza. In the Philippines, it is called kalabasa. It is called auyama in the Dominican Republic and ayote in many parts of Central America. In South America, it is locally known as zapallo. All these terms refer to the same winter squash.
Because it refers to pumpkins and considering how loosely the term pumpkin is used without assigning it exclusively to one specific plant, a calabaza can be any of the different cultivars of Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbita maxima, C. argyrosperma, or C. moschata.
The vines of a calabaza squash plant can grow up to 50 feet long, although some calabaza squash are bush-type plants. Of the two, the latter produces a higher yield. The calabaza squash can weigh as much as 23 kilograms or 50 pounds.
Calabaza Squash Trivia
- Some people believe that a brew can be made to help cure smallpox and the ingredients of this brew include the stem of the calabaza squash.
- In the Dominican Republic, it is a folk practice to make a decoction of calabaza squash seeds using cow’s milk.
- Calabaza squash currently has no resistant varieties available, which makes it important for growers to be diligent when checking for pests, diseases, weeds, and other threats.
- Calabaza plants are monoecious. What does that mean? Monoecious means having both the male and female reproductive organs in the same individual.
Calabaza Squash Buying Guide
Depending on the type and cultivar, a calabaza squash’s skin color may vary from light yellow to dark green, so don’t be alarmed if you are buying in the store and see a different color with the same name. The shape of the fruit varies too – some are oval, while others have spheroid, obovate, pear, oblate, or elliptic shapes.
The flesh, which is usually 3 to 8 centimeters (1 to 3 inches) thick, is generally bright orange or yellow, and you can see this when buying cut calabaza squash. This is common since calabaza squash can grow very big and customers may not need a whole calabaza squash, just a portion. When buying, check the skin for any bruises, holes, or discoloration. Avoid those that have any or all of these. Calabaza squash is generally available all year long so try to buy just enough for what you plan to cook in the next few days.
If you are looking to buy calabaza squash seed packets, they are available at grocery stores. You can also find seeds sold in hardware stores. If you do not have time to go out, order online.
Calabaza Squash Production & Farming in Texas
A calabaza squash will do well if you plant it in soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8. It prefers full sun, but it can also survive if grown in the shade.
If you are planting calabaza squash, mind the weeds as well, particularly pigweed, cocklebur, lance leaf sage, several annual grasses, johnsongrass, nutsedge, black nightshade, silverleaf nightshade, and devils claw. Weeds are detrimental to the crop. They compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients, and as a result, the plant exhibits reduced yields and the size of the fruit is usually smaller as a result of weed problems. That is not all. Weeds also host pathogens, viruses, and insects. Because of these reasons, it is important to rid weeds around your calabaza squash plant.
Calabaza squash can grow in the U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 9. This means it can grow anywhere in Texas. The hardiness zone spectrum covering Texas ranges from 6 to 9B.
According to Texas A&M University, the state is ranked fourth when it comes to the production of calabaza squash, locally and generally known as pumpkin, planted in more than 8,000 acres of land in Texas, and 90% of the total production of pumpkin or calabaza squash in Texas comes from West Texas.
Expect pesticides/insecticides sprayed on the majority of the crops since around 80% of all of the commercial acreage are subjected to integrated pest management (IPM). This is done to keep off pests like squash bugs, cucumber beetles, squash vine borer, and pickleworm. Commonly-used insecticides – 90% of which are aerially applied – include endosulfan and carbaryl. Without chemical intervention, there is a potential threat of reduced yields as well as a noticeable impact on the quality of harvested crops evidenced by the stunted sizes of the calabaza squash that was harvested. Synthetic pyrethroids are used for squash bugs and the spotted cucumber beetle but these are often not as effective as growers need them to be.
The fungicide chlorothalonil is used on 100% of the crop to protect the crops from diseases. Myclobutanil is used for powdery mildew control. Benomyl, maneb, and thiophanate-methyl are seldom used although these are ideal chemicals to use for calabaza squash (pumpkin).
Calabaza squash – or the calabassa – is very common in the West Indies, in the Philippines, and select tropical parts of the United States. Major producers of calabaza squash are China, India, Ukraine, and Russia. Some of the major production states in the US when it comes to calabaza squash include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.
Common to fruits and vegetables of the same size or larger, a calabaza squash is usually sold without any type of packaging, primarily because its thick skin and rind already provide it with a layer of protection, keeping the flesh inside safe from any potential contamination while out on display. In some stores or groceries, you will see whole or chopped calabaza squash individually wrapped in plastic wrap.
Enjoying Calabaza Squashes
Different varieties of calabaza squash have slightly different flavor profiles. Besides the flesh, you can also eat the flower of the calabaza squash as well as the seed. Toasted and seasoned calabaza squash seeds are called pepitas. Surprisingly, calabaza squash leaves are also consumed in some parts of the world, like Korea (where they make kimchi from its leaves), China, Kenya (where it is called seveve), and Zambia.
Calabaza squash will keep for 30 to 90 days. To maximize the ability of the calabaza squash to stay in good condition, it helps if it was allowed to dry completely. Find a cool, dry, and dark spot in your kitchen or pantry and store your calabaza squash there. Do not store it in a hot and humid location. Because of its sheer size, it is not an option for most people to store it in the refrigerator because it will take up too much space.
For cut but uncooked calabaza squash, make sure to place it in a food container with a lid, a zip lock bag, or wrap it in plastic wrap before storing it in the refrigerator. Make sure to use this soon, since this will keep for several days only. A week may be too long and the cut calabaza squash may not be ideal anymore for cooking and consumption.
Calabaza squash is consumed in different parts of the world, from the Americas to the Middle East to Asia. Calabaza squash is cooked in many different ways. You can use it to make soups or stews, or even cakes and candies! Some people roast it. It is also used in making purée. Ripe calabaza squash is boiled or steamed or even fried. Calabaza squash tastes great with butter, sugar, spices, meat, seafood, and other vegetables. You can use it to make tempura. You can eat it with cheese. It is even used to flavor beverages.
As for the flower or flor de calabaza, Mexican cooking makes good use of it, as an ingredient when making traditional Mexican food like quesadillas and empanadas.
The main benefit of the body from eating calabaza squash is absorbing beta-carotene as well as vitamin A and vitamin C. Eating calabaza squash helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases while improving eyesight and immunity and helping in weight loss.