Squash 101: Winter Varieties

squash varieties

Emails have been pouring in from our subscribers asking about the differences between winter squash varieties and whether or not they are interchangeable within recipes, and for the most part they are!

While winter squashes vary in size, shape color and appearance they share common characteristics. They all have inner cavities that contain edible seeds, and their flesh all has a mildly sweet flavor. Part of the gourd family (alongside melon, pumpkins and cucumbers) these winter varieties are much more nutrient-dense than their summertime cousins. High in fiber and low in fat, making it an exceptionally heart-friendly choice that ranks low on the glycemic index.

The vibrant, bright orange hue found inside signals an abundance of carotenoids, powerhouse nutrients shown to protect against heart disease. Also high in antioxidants, incorporating this hearty winter staple into your diet could help reduce inflammation-related disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

Acorn: Small, green and orange and shaped like their namesake, they are easily found in supermarkets.  Best used for roasting, when halved the squash acts as an edible bowl perfect for stuffing with cranberries, apples and hearty grains. Fun Fact: The skin is edible!

Butternut: Probably one of the most popular and familiar of the winter squash family, this hourglass shaped variety has a soft orange/pinkish skin. Choose ones with long thick necks. These are great for either roasting or using in soups. Their creamy texture lends itself well to flavors that are both smoky or sweet.

Delicata: Light yellow with dark green stripes this variety is making a comeback, with a flavor similar to a sweet potato, when roasted this is great stuffed. No need to peel, the skin is also edible and delicious. This is actually an heirloom variety that was dreamt up in the late 1800s!

Kabocha: A Japanese squash with a dark green, almost emerald green exterior with a soft orange flesh. It is a drier variety and lends itself to being steamed or baked, but has a subtle honey-like sweetness.

Pumpkin: The larger, jack-o-lantern style pumpkins tend to be watery and flavorless, so look for smaller ones often labels marketed as “pie pumpkins.” Their flesh is mellow and sweet and is an easy addition to baked goods like breads and pies….. oh and in savory italian dishes like ravioli or risotto!

Spaghetti: Pale yellow in color, this variety contains an element of surprised. When roasted the flesh can be scraped out, resembling individual spaghetti-like strands. Most commonly you’ll see spaghetti squash served with tomato sauce and is a great gluten-free option for pasta dishes. This does not fare well when used for soups, baked goods, or creamier dishes. It’s flavor is really enhanced when roasted with garlic, salt and olive oil - Italian herbs pair beautifully with these guys.