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Teasel gourds are small to medium in size, averaging 2-3 centimeters in diameter and 2-7 centimeters in length, and are oblong to oval in shape tapering to a small point at one end. The skin ranges in color from bright green to yellow and is covered with a thick layer of small, soft spines or bristles. The flesh is crisp and watery, filled with small, cream-colored to brown seeds. Teasel gourds are crisp and juicy with a pleasantly bitter flavor, similar to bitter melon but with lighter astringent notes.
Teasel gourds are available during the monsoon season in India, which is in the late spring through summer.
Teasel gourds, botanically classified as Cucumis dipsaceus, are small fruits that grow on sprawling vines that can reach over 2-3 meters in length and are members of the Cucurbitaceae family along with squash and pumpkins. Also known as the Spine gourd, Hedgehog gourd, and Kantola in the north-western belt and Phagala eastern states of India, the Teasel gourd is a popular culinary item in the coastal regions of India. Outside of India, Teasel gourds are also used throughout Asia as a vegetable and are commonly planted as an ornamental climbing vine in the United States for its prolific growth habits without the need for extensive care.
Teasel gourds contain some vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.
Teasel gourds can be consumed with the skin on and are best suited for cooked applications such as roasting, baking, and frying. They are often marinated for fritters and fried, stuffed with coconut and mustard, or used in fish stew. The spiky skin is cut away and the gourd cut in half, the seeds are scooped out with a spoon and added to a mixture of spices and chiles for the filling. After stuffing, the seed and spice mixture is spooned into the hollow cavity of the Teasel gourd and is dipped in batter and fried in oil until browned. Teasel gourds can also be sliced and peeled into several rounds, dusted with rice flour and spices, and pan-fried. In addition to the flesh, the seeds can be roasted and consumed as a snack. Teasel gourds pair well with coriander, garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, curry leaves, garlic, onions, peanuts, and rice. They will keep 1-2 weeks when stored in the refrigerator.
Teasel gourds are so popular in the Konkani region on the western coast of India that it is incorporated into many of the local monsoon festivals. Some of the most well-known Teasel gourd dishes in the Western states of India include kantola curry and kantola fish fry, which is Teasel gourd cooked with river fish in curry form, and Phagla Phodi, a street food made with Teasel gourd fried in a spicy rice batter.
Teasel gourds are native to north-eastern tropical Africa and are prolific vines, rapidly spreading and growing in the wild. The vines are also cultivated for their fruits and were introduced to India, Hawaii, and in a small area of Baja California. Today Teasel gourds can be found at local markets across tropical Asia, Central America, and in the United States.