Calabacita (Cucurita pepo), translating to “little squash” in Spanish, is a very popular type of summer squash in Mexico, and variations of this squash, most also C. pepo can be found in other Latin American countries. Cucurbita pepo was domesticated in what is now Mexico and Central America (Morales Maza et al. 2013). All summer squash and zucchini squashes grown in the United States are also C. pepo.
There are two basic types of calabacita in Mexico: calabacita larga, "long little squash" (Figure 1, Figure 2) and calabacita bola, "round little squash" (Figure 3, Figure 4). In markets in Merida, Yucatán Mexico only the "long" type is found, which is called just calabaza or sometimes calabaza larga instead of calabacita (Figure 5) (Zoila Keb Canche, Personal Communication, December 30, 2016, Mercado Market, Merida Mexico).
The varieties preferred in Mexican markets range from light to a darker green. One market vendor in Mexico City said the preference was for the lighter green types (Figure 1). In Mexico, they will eat the tender, mature fruits as with summer squash in the US markets, but also mature fruits, buds, and flowers (Figure 6) (Morales Maza et al., 2013). In Massachusetts, markets will sell cousa types of summer squash varieties as calabacita (Figure 7). Vendors say the cousa types have a similar texture to calabacita.
(In addition, markets in Massachusetts sell cousa types of summer squash as pipían, a staple small squash in El Salvador and other Central American countries. In Mexico, the word pipían is the word used for ground seeds of squashes, which can cause some confusion. Cousa types of summer squash also have a similar texture of pipían, and are thus sold to Central Americans living in Massachusetts as pipían)
One way calabacita is used in Mexico is as an ingredient in vegetable soup (sopa de verduras), which will include carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and hard squash, among other vegetables. Figure 8 shows a bag of pre-cut vegetables for sale at small retail market in Merida Mexico in 2016. (Alejo Mantilla, a food guide with Intrepid Urban Adventures in Merida, Yucatán Mexico, January 6, 2017) Calabacita is also used as a side dish along with other steamed vegetables (Figure 9).
For information on production and management of calabacita, refer to the New England Vegetable Management Guide and click on "Pumpkin, Squash and Gourds". Use the information listed for summer squash and zucchini.
The Mexican market prefers small calabacitas: one reference states that the Mexican market likes calabacita larga to be 5-6 inches long. Interestingly, this same reference states that the size farmers in Mexico should harvest calabacita for the "export" market is 6-10 inches long (Morales Maza et al. 2013). The export market in Mexico would be mostly the United States, where summer squash varieties will be longer/larger than what some Mexican markets prefer.
One publication from INIFAP recommends three varieties for calabacita: “Estrella”, “Huracán” y “Arte F1” (Morales Maza et al. 2013).
Post-Harvest and Packing
Calabacita should be stored under the same conditions as summer squash and zucchini varieties: 50°F and 90-95% relative humidity. Table 16: Handling Produce for Higher Quality and Longer Market Life, New England Vegetable Management Guide
Morales Maza, A., J. I. Alvarado Padilla, E. Avila Casilas, B. Hernández Vázquez, S. Payán Ochoa. 2013. Producción de calabacita. Horticultivos, Digital journal. Accessed on December 29, 16. Authors are researchers with INIFAP
Canache, Zoila Keb. Interview with F. Mangan. Personal Interview. Santiago Market in Merida Mexico, December 30, 2016.
Alejo Mantilla, a food guide with Intrepid Urban Adventures in Merida, Yucatán Mexico, January 6, 2017