Winter squash are hard-skinned edible members of the gourd family. In contrast to tender, young summer squash, winter squash are harvested at a mature stage when their skins have grown hard.
Because of these protective skins, winter squash have a much longer storage life than their summer family members. Some can keep for several months at home or longer in a commercial facility. Harvested in the fall, for example, they can be stored throughout the winter in a cool, dry place. Winter squash are no longer bound to a particular season though. Today, the term simply refers to hard-skinned varieties that keep well.
Unlike their summer counterparts, which tend to be rather similar to one another in taste, winter squash have very distinctive flavors. They also come in a variety of colors: white, yellow, orange, green-brown, gray, and even light blue, to name a few. Winter squash are almost always cooked. The seeds, which are high in protein and fat, are usually discarded, though some, such as pumpkin seeds, can be eaten if toasted and husked. Winter squash blossoms are also edible.
Types of Winter Squash
Winter squash vary greatly in size—from small acorn squash and sweet dumplings to pumpkins that can reach 200 pounds—and exhibit a range of flavors. Here are some varieties you may see at supermarkets and farmers' markets.
Winter squash: nutrition
The deep yellow to deep orange flesh of winter squash is more nutritious and richer in complex carbohydrates than summer squash. Pumpkin and butternut squash offer outstanding amounts of beta carotene, the healthful yellow-orange pigment. One cup of pumpkin contains 7.8 milligrams of beta carotene and 1 cup of cooked butternut squash supplies 10 milligrams. Additional carotenoid pigments, alpha carotene and lutein, lend vivid autumn color to winter squash and help defend the body’s cells against disease-causing free radicals.
Dietary fiber (both soluble and insoluble) and a wealth of nutrients are also plentiful in winter squash. Winter squash offers appreciable amounts of the B vitamins thiamin and vitamin B6, as well as of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Winter squash is also one of a handful of good low-fat sources of vitamin E.
For a full listing of nutrients, see the National Nutrient Database.
How to Choose the Best Winter Squash
A smooth and dry skin, deep color, and heavy feel are among the signs of a good winter squash.
How to store winter squash
Winter squash is one of the best-keeping vegetables. Uncut squash should last for three months or longer in a cool, dry place. Storing winter squash below 50°F will cause squash to deteriorate more quickly, but refrigerator storage is acceptable for a week or two. Cut squash will keep for up to a week if tightly wrapped and refrigerated.
10 Recipe Ideas for Winter Squash
Winter squash such as acorn, butternut, and delicata squash make delightful soups, side dishes, and stuffings.
Published November 19, 2015