Squash. It’s one of the most versatile components of a side dish you can prepare. And aside from the various flavor profiles you’ll enjoy, eating squash has some fantastic health benefits.
When you begin planning meals that include squash, you’ll likely find an abundance of zucchini, crook neck, and patty pan. While these all offer a tasty way to eat squash, there’s more to the Cucurbitaceae family.
To help you choose between the different types of squash, we’ve gathered a few facts about some of the most popular varieties of this delicious vegetable/fruit. Explore the different ways you can incorporate squash into your diet.
Winter Squash and Summer Squash
The terms winter and summer squash are a bit misleading. It makes novice gardeners confused because they think they should only plant and harvest winter varieties during cool weather.
The truth is that all squashes are warm-weather plants. Experienced gardeners know to plant them roughly two weeks after the first frost in their area.
Here are a few things that set winter and summer squash apart.
These squashes are usually ready to harvest by the end of summer. Because they store well, you can enjoy them during the winter. Winter squash tends to have larger fruits.
Some varieties only produce one to three fruits per plant. You can usually harvest winter squashes within 120 days of planting.
Most winter squashes have hard shells. The more common varieties include acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and pumpkins.
Harvest time for summer squashes takes place during the warm summer months. You can usually start harvesting roughly 50-70 days after planting. They produce more fruit than winter squashes.
The skin on these fruits is soft. The fruit inside is tender, making them ideal for grilling. Summer squashes include yellow straight and crookneck varieties, zucchinis, and scallop squash.
Next, we’ll share a few of our favorite types of squash.
Butternut and Buttercup Squashes
Two squash varieties—butternut and buttercup—make a great choice, but if you’re looking for the quintessential winter squash, it’s butternut. You can’t miss this squash in the produce aisle with its long neck, rotund end, and bright orange color.
Butternut squash tastes nutty and sweet, making it the ideal ingredient in savory or sweet dishes. Cooks use it in soups, stews, casseroles, and curries, but it works just as well in muffins, cakes, and pies.
What does butternut squash really taste like?
Its flavor depends, in part, on how you cook it. Roasted, it tastes a little like carrots. You’re sure to enjoy this squash if you love sweet potatoes with their rich, buttery, and nutty flavor.
Buttercup squash is also a winter variety. It has a similarly sweet, nutty flavor but looks quite different from its tall bowling-pin-like cousin, the butternut.
Buttercup squash is dark green and round on the outside. Inside, you’ll find either a dark yellow or orange flesh—sometimes, deep red.
You can roast this squash in the oven or boil it on the stovetop. Many cooks feature buttercup squash as a hearty base for creamy soups.
Don’t Miss Out on the Acorn Squash
You might think of acorn squash as a winter squash. After all, it appears on many tables during the early fall and winter.
It might surprise you that acorn squash is part of the same family as summer squash.
You’ll recognize acorn squash by its dark green, ridged skin. Orange on the inside, this squash tastes sweet and buttery.
Something many people love about acorn squash is its tender, flavorful skin. You can roast it with the peel on, which also means you can eat it without peeling.
From a healthy eating perspective, eat acorn squash, and you’ll get more calcium and potassium than butternut or any other winter squash.
How to Select and Serve Spaghetti Squash
If the name of this squash makes you think of eating pasta, you could be on to something. Spaghetti squash can taste like spaghetti—the noodle, not the sauce.
How do you prepare this squash to optimize flavor and texture?
Many home cooks and food delivery services alike prepare spaghetti squash by baking it whole. Others set the squash in a pan of water and steam it in the oven.
This is perhaps the preferred way to cook it, so its flavor resembles pasta. Slice it in half lengthwise, rub it lightly with olive oil, and bake it face-down on a baking sheet in the oven.
Spaghetti squash packs a lot of fiber. At 2.2 grams per each 1-cup serving, you’ll get around 9% of the RDA. This popular squash also provides several other nutrients, including the following:
- Vitamins C, A, and K
- Pantothenic Acid
When selecting this squash, look for firm, golden, or dark yellow skin. Avoid squash with soft spots or cracked skin. The stem should be firm and dry.
Weight matters with spaghetti squash. The one you take home should feel heavier than it looks.
Are Pumpkins Part of the Squash Family?
Most often associated with fall holidays, pumpkins belong to the squash family. While you’ve likely enjoyed carving a giant orange pumpkin and roasting the seeds, pumpkins come in various colors and textures.
Did you know you could call any hard-skinned squash a pumpkin and get away with it?
Edible squash and pumpkins both belong to the Cucubita family. They fall into three main groups, as follows:
- Cucurbita moschata
- C. maxima
- C. pepo
Winter squashes typically belong to the C. moschata and C. maxima groups. Most summer squash and inedible gourds belong to the C. pepo group.
For those cooks who want to go beyond the roasted pumpkin seeds, why not whip up a pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread or muffins, pumpkin soup, or pumpkin butter? Don’t forget the pumpkin spice latte. Yes, you can make your version of this popular drink!
When choosing a pumpkin, scratch it with your fingernail. If you can do that, you’ve selected an immature pumpkin. Don’t take home a pumpkin with bruises and soft spots.
Turn the pumpkin over and look for a light warm yellow or orange color. If the bottom is green, the pumpkin isn’t ready to pick.
Zucchini and Cucumber
If you’ve ever picked up a cucumber when you meant to buy zucchini, then you’ve made a classic error made by many people in a hurry to get the after-work grocery shopping done.
It’s easy to confuse the two at first glance, and while the two may be kin—both are cucurbits—they’re pretty different, from the taste to how you can prepare them.
Most of us are used to green zucchini, but this squash also comes in yellow (not to be confused with yellow squash).
Count yourself blessed if you have a generous neighbor who grows squash in the garden this summer. Not only can you use zucchini in a healthy stir-fry, but you can also bread it and fry it in a small amount of oil.
You can roast, bake, or grill it, but many people love eating it raw with ranch-style dressing.
The nutritional value of just one cup of zucchini is something you can’t ignore, even if you’re not yet a fan of this versatile summer squash.
For example, one cup packs the following in percentages ranging from 5%-16% of recommended daily amount:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
Vitamin A is another nutrient found in zucchini. It packs a whopping 40% of the RDI. Vitamin A helps boost your immune system—vital to getting through cold and flu season.
Yellow Squash Is Divine
While similar in taste to zucchini, yellow summer squash can hold its own in any dish. If you’re looking for a splash of color in your zucchini stir-fry, you can include sliced yellow squash, which won’t change the taste of the dish.
People who plant this squash in the vegetable garden usually share it with friends. Like zucchini, yellow squash grows abundantly.
You can cook it or eat it raw. Raw yellow squash contains only 18 calories. Why not add it to your raw zucchini and dressing snack?
Here are a few popular ways to cook this colorful summer squash:
- Yellow squash fritters
- Squash noodles
- Sauteed with onion
- Yellow squash pickles
Consider combining zucchini and yellow squash to make a delicious gratin. Or, to satisfy your sweet tooth, bake a lemon yellow squash quickbread.
Yellow squash comes with other benefits, too. Eating one cup of raw squash will give you 32% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C and 12% of the recommended amount of vitamin B12.
Vitamin C helps heal wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin B12 assists your body in making proteins and red blood cells.
Even though it’s a summer squash, you can enjoy yellow squash year-round if you freeze it.
What Is Chayote Squash?
If you’ve never tried a dish prepared with chayote squash, you’re missing out on a member of the squash family with quite a history.
The Aztecs cultivated chayote, and the squash eventually migrated to other Mesoamerica areas. It didn’t arrive in the U.S. until the late nineteenth century.
Chayote is a delightful light to dark green squash with lumpy skin. It’s shaped like a pear, but you probably wouldn’t like biting into a raw chayote squash.
Not everyone calls it chayote. Depending on where in the world you are, you could find this squash under one of the following monikers:
- Mango squash
- Vegetable pear
Cooks in Louisiana call chayote mirliton.
Chayote is a high-carbohydrate, high-calorie squash. It also contains less protein or fiber than other squash varieties.
What you will find is that chayote is high in amino acids. It also supplies a good amount of micro and macronutrients. Chayote is also less expensive than many other types of squash.
Try Pinstriped Squash
There’s a new kid on the block that continues to gain popularity. It’s the delicata squash.
Delicata is the color of butter with pinstriped skin. It tastes a little like butternut squash but without the hard skin. The skin is so delicate that you can eat this squash without peeling it.
Underneath the clever pinstriping, you’ll find sweet, creamy yellow flesh. It’s so sweet you don’t need to worry about adding a lot of seasoning.
Cooking methods include:
- Oven roasting
You can even microwave it if you’re in a hurry to put it on the table.
Regarding nutritional value, delicata squash ranks high in fiber and potassium. Fiber reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Potassium may help people with high blood pressure keep their numbers healthy.
To get these incredible health benefits, all you need to eat is one cup. One cup contains 500 mg of potassium. Delicata also provides Vitamin C.
You may see delicata squash called peanut, sweet potato, or Bohemian squash.
Have You Tried Squash Blossoms?
It’s always good when you can use the whole squash. Unlike citrus fruits, watermelon, and other vegetables, you don’t need to throw much away when you eat many squash varieties.
While most people don’t realize the blossoms of the squash plant are edible, many cultures use them in cooking.
Squash blossoms are easy to prepare. Remove the stamen at the base of each flower—it’s edible but can take on a bitter flavor. It would be best if you also considered removing the stems.
They may be flowers, but they don’t have a floral flavor. Instead, squash blossoms taste like squash.
You can dip them in batter and fry them for a delicate fritter-like treat. Squash blossom soup is one of the most elegant dishes you can prepare with these delicate flowers.
Squash blossoms aren’t just pretty. They also contain calcium, iron, and Vitamin A.
Which Types of Squash Are You Ready to Try?
Who knew you could find so many squashes to tease your palette? This article only covers a few varieties—look through any seed catalog, and you’ll find many more. There are at least 50 types of squash, most of which are edible.
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