Photo credit: jitze
Ever wonder what the differences are between all those strangely-shaped types of squash you see at the store or farmer’s market? While all types of winter squash are fantastic sources of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium, and beta carotene, they each have their own flavors and textures suited to many different kinds of cooking. Plus, all the different shapes and colors provide a fun opportunity for young kids to learn and play with their food! Here’s a quick guide to choosing and preparing some common types of fall and winter squash:
Photo credit: Gary J Wood
Acorn squash, as its name suggests, is shaped like an acorn with firm, dark green skin. Peeling is somewhat difficult, but the peel is actually edible after cooking. The yellow flesh is moist, making this type of squash quite versatile for roasting, mashing, steaming, sautéing, or being used as a bowl for various fillings. The flavor is mildly sweet and complements many different ingredients. Acorn squash typically weigh 1-2 pounds and are about 4-7 inches long.
Photo credit: Julian Fong
Butternut squash is named for its smooth, creamy, sweet and slightly nutty flavor. For the most flesh, choose one with a long, thick neck–and for more beta carotene, choose one that is more orange on the outside. The skin is not edible, but it is slightly easier to peel than other varieties. The seeds, on the other hand, are edible and can be roasted like pumpkin seeds. Butternut squash, like acorn squash, is also pretty versatile and can be roasted, pureed, mashed, or cubed and steamed.
Photo credit: wikioticsIan
Commercially-made pumpkin pie mix is usually made from cheese pumpkins or another related variety, due to their smooth, creamy texture and high sugar content. Their name comes from their appearance rather than their flavor, and like most smaller pumpkins or squashes, they’re sweeter than their larger varieties. Cheese pumpkins are excellent for using in baked goods, roasting, or steaming.
Photo credit: Dyogi
Delicata squash is a smaller variety of squash that tastes similar to sweet potato or butternut squash, and features colorful stripes across its skin. The flesh is smooth and moist, the skin is edible, and it all holds up particularly well to roasting or caramelizing. Due to a thinner and more tender skin, Delicata squash doesn’t keep as long as other varieties, but it can be stored at room temperature for about two weeks. When choosing some at the grocery store or farmer’s market, look for squash without any bruises or cuts.
Photo credit: Linda N.
Hubbard squash is an extremely large variety with some specimens weighing in at 50 pounds! The skin is very bumpy and usually grayish-blue, but can also be seen in other colors. The flesh is sugary but mealy, so it’s best used for pie fillings or pureed. The flesh actually sweetens with age, so Hubbards can be stored for months in a cool, dry place to increase the sugar content before cutting. When choosing a Hubbard squash, pick one that feels heavy for its size and has a matte (not glossy) skin. Like many squashes, Hubbards can be difficult to cut through, so remember: if your knife becomes stuck, don’t try to pull it out! Carefully use a rubber mallet or meat tenderizer to tap the handle of the knife until it goes through.
Photo credit: _e.t
Kabocha Squash (or Japanese Squash)
Kabocha squash is drier and denser than most types of squash, so it holds its shape well in liquids and is fantastic for soups or stews. It can also be cooked like acorn squash (roasting, steaming, etc.), or paired well with Asian ingredients like ginger and sesame. The flavor is usually somewhere between pumpkin and sweet potato. When choosing a Kabocha, pick one that feels heavy for its size with a hard, rough, dark green skin; a more tender skin indicates a less mature squash that may not be as flavorful. Store in a cool, dry place for up to a month, or keep cut pieces wrapped in the refrigerator for 5 days.
Photo credit: Forest and Kim Starr (top), Rusty Clark (bottom)
Spaghetti squash is famous for its stringy texture and very mild flavor, making it easy to use as “noodles” to serve with various sauces and toppings, roasted or sautéed. Some parents particularly love using spaghetti squash as a way to sneak more vegetables into their children’s diet! When choosing one, the rind should be hard without any blemishes or spots, and the squash should feel heavy for its size. Spaghetti squash can be stored for several weeks at room temperature.
Photo credit: wikioticsIan
Sweet Dumpling Squash
Sweet dumpling squash is another small variety that is excellent for roasting or presenting whole, filled with stuffing or soup. The skin is smooth and dry, with stripes similar to the Delicata squash. The flesh is yellow-orange and has a sweet, slight roasted corn flavor. Pick squashes free of soft spots, and they can be stored in a cool and dry area for up to 3 months.
Photo credit: Dyogi
Turban squashes are named for their unique, knobby tops, and can come in a wide range of shapes and colors, making them popular for decoration–but they’re also delicious! Some varieties have a slight hazelnut flavor, while most can be prepared in many different ways. Some of the most common uses are for stuffing or filling with soup, or using the flesh for pies. Turban squashes have a harder rind than some other types of winter squash, so if you have trouble peeling it or other kinds, try cooking pieces for 10-30 minutes before peeling the skin and returning to the oven.
What’s your favorite variety of winter squash? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by: Lauren Mesaros