The Sponge gourd is a cylindrical fruit that grows on a climbing, herbaceous vine. It has a smooth, green skin when young, and may feature ridges or ridge lines that run across the skin of the fruit. The Sponge gourd grows up to 60 centimeters long, but is harvested as a vegetable when it is young and tender, at around 12 centimeters in length. The Sponge gourd contains many seeds, which can be around 1.5 centimeters in length. The seeds are also edible but are usually removed before the flesh is eaten. The interior flesh of the Sponge gourd is smooth and creamy-white. Sponge gourd has a mild, zucchini-like sweet taste and a silky texture. Mature fruits are not tasty, being fibrous, bitter and brown.
Sponge gourd is grown year-round and has a peak season in the summer months.
The Sponge gourd, also called the Luffa or Loofah gourd, is a member of the Curcurbitaceae (cucumber) family. The name Sponge gourd generally refers to the fruit of two species –L. cylindrica, which is smooth-skinned with faint ridge lines; and L. acutangula, which has prominent ridges and is known as Angled gourd. The Sponge gourd is a fast-growing plant found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The fruit may grow as much as 3.5 centimeters a day. Young Sponge gourds have a tender skin that tends to break easily. To avoid damage, the fruit is cut from the vine, rather than pulled. The dried fibers of mature Sponge gourd are used to make sponges. These are used to make loofahs to exfoliate the skin; or to make scrubbing sponges for kitchens and bathrooms.
Sponge gourd is loaded with nutrients such as dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, riboflavin, zinc, thiamine, iron and magnesium. The Sponge gourd fruit has been found to have antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Only the young fruit of the Sponge gourd is used in culinary applications. Young Sponge gourds may be eaten raw, like cucumbers, or cooked as a vegetable. Sponge gourd may be used in dishes that call for squash, zucchini or okra. As its name suggests, Sponge gourd also soaks up the flavors of the accompanying spices and ingredients. Sponge gourd can be used in soups, curries, chutneys and stir-fries. The Sponge gourd is good simply steamed and finished with a drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce, or with browned garlic and slices of chili pepper for flavor. It may also be stuffed with meat, such as pork, and steamed. Sponge gourd can eaten raw – it can be cut into slices and used in salads. The fruit is best consumed as soon as it is bought or harvested. Sponge gourd can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.