Zucchini 101: Benefits and Cooking

Zucchini is a favorite type of summer squash that can add a boost of nutrition and flavor to any side dish, entree, or even baked good. Here’s a guide to this versatile ingredient that covers the nutritional profile and how to cook zucchini.

Zucchini Benefits

Zucchini, known in other parts of the world as courgette or marrow, is a fantastic culinary vegetable that can add so much to your meals and menus. Not only is it delicious, it’s also incredibly versatile- no matter how you prepare it, zucchini shines. And if that isn’t enough for you, it’s also packed with nutrients.

The zucchini we know and love today was likely developed in Italy, but its deeper origins come from the Americas. Unlike a cucumber that’s eaten raw, zucchini is usually eaten cooked; it has a delicate, sweetly subtle flavor that allows it to adapt beautifully to the ingredients it’s cooked with. Discover what zucchini is, how it’s grown, and how to use it every day it’s in season.

How zucchini is grown

Because zucchini is a relative of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, and other squashes, it grows on the ground from a large-leafed plant. While it’s in season, from May to July depending on where you live, a healthy zucchini plant has an abundance of gorgeous yellow-orange blossoms which also can be eaten, because only the female blossoms will produce fruit. That’s right: botanically zucchini is a fruit, even though it’s considered a vegetable.

Does size matter?

Another fun fact: a mature zucchini can grow up to a meter in length! By that point, they don’t make for the best eating because they’re too fibrous and tough. Anyone who has grown zucchini in their gardens has likely learned this lesson; sometimes zukes have a way of hiding and surprising even the most steadfast gardener, growing impossibly large. The zucchini we see at the store is actually the baby versions of the larger, fully mature ones.

Difference between zucchini and summer squash

Visual comparison between zucchini and summer squash

Zucchini is only one of a broader variety of vegetables known as summer squash, which includes yellow squash (summer squash) and those darling little pattypan squash, as well. While zucchini can range from a light green color to deep emerald, individual varieties can be stripped, or even golden.

So how then can you tell the difference between a zucchini and a yellow squash? A yellow squash usually has a bulbous end with a tapered neck and can have more seeds, while a zucchini has tender, white flesh. Many squash aficionados love both equally and use either variety interchangeably in recipes.

Zucchini health benefits

Those looking to improve their diets need to look no further than adding zucchini to their daily vegetable repertoire. Low in calories and carbs and specifically low on the glycemic index, zucchini is especially a darling of low-carb dieters, paleo enthusiasts, and those on the Whole30 plan.

It’s also high in water, fiber, vitamin A and C, and heart-healthy potassium. Other nutritional benefits of eating zucchini include the potential to reduce the risk of diabetes and increased energy from B vitamins, including folate.

Nutritional profile

According to the USDA Nutrient Database, 1 cup serving (113g) of sliced zucchini, there are approximately:

  • 19 calories
  • 1.4g of protein
  • 3.5g carbohydrates
  • 1g fiber
  • 2.8g sugar
  • 20.2mg vitamin C
  • 0.18mg vitamin B6
  • 20mg magnesium
  • 295mg potassium
  • 27mg folate
  • 4.9mg vitamin K

Zucchini and summer squash on a table

Selecting and storing

Like all tender-skinned summer squash, zucchini is best eaten soon after it has been picked. When you’re at the market, look for firm, glossy fruit without any soft spots. Store what you don’t use in the vegetable bin in your refrigerator, and use them within a couple of weeks. Unlike the hearty winter squashes, these don’t keep long! If they become soft or develop deep brown or black spots, add them to your compost bin or discard.

How to cook zucchini

As you may have guessed, there are infinite ways to cook with zucchini! And there’s no need to peel this vegetable, either, because the skin is as delicious as it is nutritious. Just try not to overcook it. Otherwise, it can get soggy and lose its texture because it’s high in moisture content.

  • Stuffed and baked: Larger zukes can be sliced in half down the middle, hollowed out and filled with a wide array of savory fillings and baked until tender. Try stuffed zucchinis by adding ingredients like tomatoes, bell pepper, spinach, quinoa, and feta. Zucchini boats can be a great main dish or side. Baked zucchini fries also make for healthier side dish option.
  • Shredded: Add shredded zucchini to a tomato sauce or lasagna. Go meatless and make veggie patties or crispy vegetable fritters. Or go ahead and make the best zucchini bread ever.
  • Raw: If the zucchini is tender enough, paper-thin slices can be eaten raw in a salad or crudites platter.
  • Fried: Slices can be dipped in batter and fried until crisp on the outside, achingly tender on the inside.
  • Roasted or Grilled: Drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper, or allowed to sit in a marinade briefly. Zucchini can be cut into thick slices or wedges and roasted or grilled.
  • Peeled or spiralized: If you have a vegetable peeler or spiralizer, makes fabulous zucchini noodles for a gluten-free pasta substitute.
  • Sautéd and stir-fried: A light sauté in olive oil, or a spicy stir-fry works any night of the week.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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5 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Judy says

    Great information as always. Thank you Jessica. I have been enjoying zucchini sliced thin and raw. We made a big salad at my sisters on Saturday and it contained plenty of zucchini along with many vegetables and lettuces. Now I can’t include it as a vegetable since you said it is a fruit. Very interesting how some fruits sure seem like vegetables as that is how we grew up thinking of them. Prior to having them fresh I have made lots of zucchini walnut bread and our favorite to dip them in an egg bath and then flour and to fry them. I have a spiralizer and making them into noodles and using your Bolognese sauce on top is on my list.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I love how many ways you prepare zucchini, they all sound lovely! Although technically a fruit because it has flowers, I think I will still always see them as vegetables. I do love stuffing the squash blossoms and frying them, so good! Great idea to make the zucchini noodles with bolognese sauce, yum!

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