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The word calabaza is derived from the Persian term for melon (kharbuz). The French term "calabasse", and hence "calabash", is based on the older Spanish. In common use the French term "calabash" refers to a gourd native to the African continent, while "calabaza" refers to a gourd native to the Americas. In North America, the word "calabaza" refers to any of several species of tropical gourds of the genus Cucurbita. Two common species native to the Caribbean are C. moschata and C. maxima. The widespread species C. foetidissima specifically identifies "calabaza" as one of its common names. The Spanish "calabacera frasco" [literal translation; bottle-shaped gourd] refers specifically to C. foetidissima. Local names for "large green or yellow gourds" include "auyama" (Venezuela, Colombia), "ayote" (Central America), "abóbora" (Brazil), and "zapallo" much of South America.
First cultivated for food in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica as one of the "three sisters" of squash, maize, and climbing beans (typically tepary beans or common beans). From Mesoamerica, it is believed to have spread to other regions via Spanish colonial influence. Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata, in particular, are well known in the Philippines under the name "kalabasa".
Cultivated species produce gourds in a variety of shapes. However all are creeping, annual tropical vines with large lobed leaves and branching tendrils. The skin color reflects hybrids, varying from dark green to light yellow. The flesh can also vary in color, but most common is bright orange or yellow. Varieties differ somewhat in taste and texture, but are generally slightly sweet with a firm but soft texture. Farmer's markets in South America offer varieties of calabaza in a fashion similar to the variety of apples that might be present in a North American market.
It is eaten many different ways, such as in stews, cakes, and candies. Some recipes that call for pumpkin allow calabaza to be used in its place. The taste is smooth and somewhat sweet. Calabaza is a good source of beta-carotene, some of which can be converted into Vitamin A.
The seeds, toasted and seasoned, known as pepitas, are a common snack.
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