Ingredient Focus: Loofah

More commonly seen in sponges and soap, Loofah is actually an edible plant, a part of the gourd family that includes pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. The plant flowers annually, and once pollinated the green fruits become pods that contain the entwined fibers that are the familiar mark of the loofah. Harvested early and prepared right, loofah can be a great substitute vegetable in any dish.

The blossoms and even the young fruits can be cooked as you would with okra, zucchini and other squashes, whether in a simple stir-fry or more seasoned with hot pepper and other spices. Peeling off the fruit's skin will reduce bitterness, but it is not necessary to do so. Use loofah as an alternative ingredient in zucchini bread or ratatouille.

Mature, fibrous loofah can be used as a natural alternative to sponges, either for artistic effect in your home or for keeping your kitchen green and clean, in addition to these helpful tips for making your kitchen more environmentally friendly.

Beyond just eating or cleaning with loofah, this plant that we often associate with cleaning in the shower has healing properties, too. A natural healing agent for jaundice, Ayurvedic practice prescribes juice from the bitter loofah as a solution for this disease.

Have you ever eaten loofah?

Photo: La.Catholique on flickr