By: Megan Lasko, MS, RD, LDN
Temperatures are dropping and days are getting shorter, which means farmer’s markets and grocery stores are making their seasonal swap from summer to winter squash varieties. All squash are part of the genus family known as cucurbitaceae, but classification as “winter” or “summer” is dependent on when these fruits (yes, they’re fruits!) ripen. Winter squash are grown to be harvested as mature and robust fruits, and are therefore larger, sweeter, and fuller in flavor than their light and mild summer counterparts. There are several varieties of winter squash, each of which boasts preparation versatility and a unique flavor profile.
Winter squash also contain rich nutritional profiles. These fruits are high in antioxidant nutrients, including disease-fighting Vitamins A and E, and immunity-boosting Vitamin C. Squash also contains energy-providing B-complex vitamins, such as Vitamin B6, Niacin, Thiamin, Folate, and Pantothenic Acid, and is rich in bone health-promoting minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and manganese.
When selecting squash, choose fruits that are firm and blemish-free. Smaller fruits tend to be sweeter and more flavorful than large fruits. Squash should be stored in a cool spot (however, not the refrigerator) and should be used within a month of purchase.
Acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash are three well-known varieties of winter squash. Below are some more facts on these 3 common winter squash types, as well as a recipe.
Acorn squash is named after its acorn-like appearance. Its hard shell can be white, orange, or dark green but all contain a dry, golden flesh laden with a savory, nutty flavor. Acorn squash is best when roasted, braised or steamed. Its seed-to-flesh ratio is relatively high compared to other winter squash varieties, and therefore acorn squash is a good choice to stuff with other ingredients.
Spaghetti squash is named after the crisp, spaghetti-like strands its flesh produces after preparation. It is lower in sugar than other winter squashes, and can be used as a lower calorie replacement in recipes calling for spaghetti noodles.
Butternut squash has a bright orange flesh that is sweeter and smoother than other squash varieties, and is therefore considered the most versatile winter squash. It is often baked, roasted, or boiled. Many restaurants feature a seasonal “butternut squash soup” – or try a homemade version of your own!