So, let’s talk about squash. There’s more to this veggie family than yellow squash and green zucchinis. Though they’re pillars of the produce aisle, there are several other squash types to know and love.
Table of Contents
- — Types of Winter Squash:
- Acorn squash
- Banana squash
- Buttercup squash
- Butternut squash
- Carnival squash
- Delicata squash
- Honeynut squash
- Red kuri
- Spaghetti squash
- Sweet dumpling squash
- Turban squash
- — Types of Summer Squash:
- Chayote (mirliton)
- Crookneck squash
- Patty pan squash
- Round zucchini
- Squash blossoms
- Yellow squash
- Selecting and storing
- Ways to cook squash
- Health benefits
First, to settle the debate: Is squash a fruit or a vegetable? Because we tend to cook squash, many tend to assume it’s a vegetable. However, squash is a fruit because it contains seeds and they flower.
Now for another conundrum. Gourds, pumpkins, and squash are often lumped into the same category, and that’s because they come from the same plant family: Cucurbitaceae. However, while pumpkins may be a type of squash, gourds are not.
Squash is grown mostly in late spring and early summer, and depending on the variety; they take between 50 and 100 days to mature. While there is summer squash and winter squash, both are warm-weather plants, and many types of them are available year long.
So, what are some fun ways to cook with squash? It makes a delicious sauteed side. You can roast it, grill it, and even puree into soup. Of course, you can also spiralize summer squash into zoodles, a popular health hack. Let’s explore the main types of squash.
— Types of Winter Squash:
One of the first, if not the first type of squash in America, acorn squash grows to be between 1 and 3 pounds. As the name indicates, they’re shaped like acorns. Their skin is a combination of yellow and deep green. A good balance of both colors means it’s fresh; too much yellow, and it may be overripened.
Banana squash is cylinder-shaped, and they are a light pinkish-orange hue. They are available year-round but are considered in season during the fall and winter. They can grow up to 3-feet-long. The thick skin is discarded before eating or cooking; only the flesh is edible.
Yes, buttercup, not butternut (we’ll get to that next). Also named after their shape, resembling a peanut butter cup, buttercup squash has orange flesh and green skin. Their flesh is sweet, and it’s excellent to puree for making soup. It’s also often sliced and roasted for a delicious side dish.
As one of the more popular winter squash varieties, butternut squash is available year-round with a peak season in the winter and fall. They have a light beige skin that’s slightly orange. The flesh, on the other hand, is a deep orange.
Their green and orange specks define carnival squash. You might say they look like a party. Their unique and fun appearance is why they’re often used as centerpieces, but they are delicious to eat as well, with a sweet and buttery flavor.
This is another cylinder-shaped squash, but it’s a little more unique with thin green stripes through its ridges. You don’t need to peel the skin before cooking, so that makes it one of the more low-maintenance types of squash to cook with. Slice it up and roast it, and the sweet flavors come out to play.
Also referred to as a Japanese pumpkin, the kabocha squash is a smaller variety with green skin. Its flavor is similar to butternut squash and acorn squash with buttery tones that stand out. You often find sliced in vegetable tempura, plus you can eat the skin.
The tough skin of a Hubbard squash makes it challenging to cook with, but once you crack into it, you’re rewarded with its sweet flavor that’s perfect for soup. The flesh’s texture makes it a good candidate for pureeing or mashing. On the larger side, they can grow up to 15 pounds.
Honeynut squash looks like mini butternut squash, and that’s exactly what it is. It was evolved from the seeds of butternut squash and has only recently become popular in the kitchen. It has a richer and sweeter flavor because it’s more concentrated into the smaller size.
Not all pumpkins are edible pumpkins. Some are simply decorations or carving pumpkins, like Jack O’Lanterns or Baby Boos. Popular edible types include Sugar Pie (great for baking!) and Cinderella pumpkins (great in savory dishes!). You may also see New England Cheddar pumpkins and Long Island Cheese pumpkins during the fall season.
Red Kuri is part of the same squash family as Hubbards. This squash is medium-sized, round, and has a deep red-orange hue. Its shape resembles an onion, and it tastes best in soups and casseroles. Like most squash varieties, you can roast it, grill it, or bake it to bring out the great flavor.
Named after it’s fleshy filling that resembles spaghetti noodles once shredded, and it’s often eaten like spaghetti, this squash is a popular choice for those looking to make simple healthy swaps. They are oval and yellow, and you can find them in stores year-round (though their peak season is fall).
Sweet dumpling squash
A small whitish-yellow squash with green coloring, sweet dumpling squash resembles a small pumpkin and usually weighs less than a pound. It’s sweet, as the name implies, with a mild flavor.
Part of the same family as kabocha, buttercup, and Hubbard squash, Turban squash can grow up to six pounds. They have a unique appearance, looking like a pumpkin with another small pumpkin growing out of its head. The top is colorful with green and white stripes. Its flavor is milder than other squash.
— Types of Summer Squash:
Cousa squash looks a stouter, shorter zucchini. The color is lighter, and it has a mildly sweet flavor. Compared to winter squash varieties, Cousa squash (and most summer squashes) have a thin skin that’s easy to peel and cut through.
Chayote squash is green with ridges and a bumpy texture, but that doesn’t really do it justice. You could easily mistake chayote squash for a pepper in the produce aisle, but it’s also casually referred to as vegetable pear. Its appearance is unique, to say the least.
It’s easy to spot this type of squash because it tapers and curves at one end. Typically it’s canary in color and has a similar mild flavor to yellow summer squash. Some varieties have a bumpy surface, while others are smooth. It’s great to slice or chop for soups, sautéed vegetables, or stir-fries.
Patty pan squash
It’s not an exaggeration to say that patty pan squash looks like mini spaceships. They’re flat and oval with small spikes around the edge. You may find green or yellow patty pan squash, and you can cook them just like any other squash. When eaten fresh, you may notice more of a bite or crunch to the texture.
Round zucchini is also referred to as eight ball zucchini, and they are very similar to classic zucchinis. The flavors match up, but round zucchinis are more ideal for recipes that involve stuffing them with cheese, more veggies, or other delicious ingredients.
Not precisely a type of squash or even a type of vegetable, squash blossoms are the flowers that bloom on the squash plant. They are usually orange or yellow but are most popular eaten breaded and fried.
The good ole’ reliable yellow squash you see in stores comes in two forms: crookneck and straight neck. Crookneck is defined by its curved neck with a wider base. Straight necks still have a wider base than the neck, but the curve is less pronounced.
The zephyr squash is a three-way cross between yellow crookneck squash, delicata squash, and yellow acorn squash. It’s cylinder-shaped and yellow, but it can have some green at the base. It has a sweet and nutty flavor.
Even though they’re available all year long and are a staple in the produce aisle from January to December, zucchinis will taste best and freshest when they peak in the summer. They are great raw in salads, sauteed in a skillet, or roasted with salt and pepper.
Selecting and storing
When selecting a squash, the heavier, the better. Avoid squash with soft spots or bruises, which are clear signs the squash is past its prime. Whether it’s winter or summer squash, they should be firm without any shriveling.
Winter squash varieties can last for up to several months if they are appropriately stored in a cool and dry area that’s well-ventilated. But once peeled or cut, it may only last up to five days. Summer squash should be refrigerated and eaten within a week, whether it’s whole and unpeeled or peeled and cut.
Ways to cook squash
There are so many ways to cook with squash. It can be sauteed, roasted, baked into muffins and desserts, and added to savory casseroles and soups. They can add crunchy texture when you need it or be pureed to provide a smooth and creamy consistency. Keep in mind that you can eat summer squash varieties raw, but winter squash should be cooked.
Winter squash is a good source of fiber (especially Hubbard and acorn squash), as well as vitamins A and C. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and contain beneficial antioxidants. Summer squash is also rich with antioxidants. Zucchini and other types of summer squash are also considered low-carb vegetables.