Zucchini Hack: Make Your Own Gummy Worms

We're not kidding. Zucchini worms are not only healthy, they taste awesome.
We’re not kidding. Zucchini worms are not only healthy, they’re chewy and sweetly delicious. Photo: L.G.  Weldon.

It’s “Overwhelmed By Zucchini” time of year again. My family is all too aware that zucchini lurks in their omelets, their smoothies, their pizza, and their burritos. My neighbors are onto my little trick of leaving anonymous squash gifts on their porches. My friends are no longer fooled by Zapple Pie.

Time to turn to my trusty secret weapon: the Excalibur 3900. This miracle machine (a.k.a. a dehydrator) sits on our laundry room counter, churning out marvels all summer and fall. It gives me the power to convert a head of cauliflower, chopped and dried with salt and garlic powder, into crunchy snackable tidbits that fit in a pint jar. It lets me transform a peck of tomatoes into dried tomato slices that neatly fill a quart bag. It enables me to turn a sink full of peaches into dozens of flavor-packed fruit roll-ups.

Which brings me to zucchini. Yes, that monster zuke in your garden or CSA basket can be transformed into tasty gummy fruit. Not like the candy version; more like the health food store version of gummy fruit. Go ahead, give it a try. You can get through quite a few monster zukes this way.

Zuke Gummy Worms

You might want to change the recipe name, either to keep from fessing up to the main ingredient or to avoid comparison with those wildly colored and artificially sweetened candies. Maybe call them Zuke Fruits. (Zucchini is a fruit, btw.)

Ingredients 

  • 6 to 7 cups of peeled zucchini, cut into thin strips*
  • One 12 to 16 ounce can of unsweetened juice concentrate, undiluted (apple-raspberry, grape-cherry, or pineapple are wonderful)
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water
  • Optional: flavorings, such as fruit extract or fruit oils (I use a dash of lemon or orange extract when using pineapple juice)
  • Optional: for a sweeter snack, add up to 1/4 cup honey or up to a 1/2 cup sugar

*Peel zucchini and cut out the core so that no seeds or sponge-y seed area remains. I cut the strips about as thick as my husband’s fingers. As long as they’re somewhat uniform, cut them as you please. Heck, make them into cubes if you like.

Make healthy zucchini candy.
Peel away the skin, then cut into uniform strips. Photo: L. G. Weldon.

Directions

Put all ingredients in a large, non-stick skillet. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. The zucchini will not be completely immersed in the liquid, but will soften as it cooks. Stir gently with a rubber or silicone spatula as needed to move the liquid around so all the pieces have time to simmer in the juice.

Continue cooking until all pieces are translucent. Chances are the liquid will be entirely used up by that time. Typically, it takes about a half hour but it can take longer. If the pieces still aren’t done, you may need to add a few spoonfuls of water. I often take out the pieces as they become translucent in order to let the others cook longer.

Spread the pieces so they’re not touching on non-stick dehydrator sheets and load in the machine. Put the dehydrator setting on “fruit leather” or “fruit.” On my machine, that’s between 115 and 125 degrees. Start checking for doneness after about 8 hours. It can take up to 24 hours, depending on the size of the pieces. I check by peeling off a smaller, more done piece and munching it. Testing is the fun part.

(I tried cooking a batch of these on Silpat sheets in the oven on the lowest temperature, 170 degrees. When they didn’t get to the dry chewy stage after about 9 hours, I got impatient and tossed them in the dehydrator. The fan in the dehydrator really accelerates the process.)

You’ll know when they’re done. They should be somewhat tough and quite chewy, keeping your mouth much busier than you’d expect. If they’re not chewy, they’re not done. Keep checking, since you don’t want them all the way to crisp! Because their moisture content won’t be as low as most long-term storage items cranked out by dehydrators, store them in an airtight container and use them up in a few days. Or keep them in the fridge (that’ll make them a dental challenge for sure). We haven’t chilled any we’ve made because they get eaten up too quickly.

These little snacks are remarkably tasty. They’re also (unlike actual gummy worms) very filling. Zucchini has fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A and C, folate, choline, and even omega-3 fatty acids. It may lose some nutrients from cutting away the peel, but each piece is a highly concentrated package of tasty energy. It can’t be compared to the candy. It’s better. Not rainbow-colored, but sweet and delicious.

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Laura is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose.