Winter squash varieties

Article by: Nadia Hassani  |  Picture by: Ted Rosen
Winter squash varieties
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Winter squash come in many different shapes, colours, sizes and flavours. With more varieties becoming available, chose the squash that best fits the dish you are making.

Winter squash have high nutritional value and boast many health benefits. They are packed with beta-carotene, a potent antioxidant, and a high amount of potassium, in addition to being a good source of vitamin C, fibre and folate. Pumpkin should always be cooked and not consumed raw, not only for reasons of taste; cooking releases beneficial carotenoids like beta-carotine.

Buying winter squash
Winter squash are grown in the summer and harvested in the late summer and early autumn. Because of their hard skin, they keep much longer than their close relatives, summer squash – including courgette and marrow. Although winter squash are often sold into the spring, they are at their peak in October and November.

When buying winter squash, inspect it carefully. It should be firm and heavy for its size with dull, hard skin that is free of blemishes and mould. Soft, tender skin is an indicator for immature or waterlogged flesh.

Storing winter squash
Depending on the variety, winter squash can be kept up to six months if stored at 10 to 15°C in a dark, well-ventilated place. Keep the squash away from direct light exposure and avoid places with extreme cold or heat. Do not refrigerate winter squash unless it is cut open, in which case the pieces should be wrapped in cling film and stored in the fridge where they will keep for up to five days.

The uncooked squash flesh can also be frozen in chunks, or after being cooked and pureed. Winter squash on its own is not suitable for bottling, as it lacks the necessary acidity to do it safely (see our bottling article for more tips). However, chutneys, jams and in combination with other acidic fruits, winter squash can be safely preserved due to the additional acid and/or sugar content.

Butternut squash
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The butternut squash (a variety of the Cucurbita moschata species) is a small to medium-size variety. It is easily recognised by its pear shape. Butternut has cream-coloured to tan, smooth skin and golden to orange flesh with relatively few seeds. The weight of the butternut ranges between 1 to 2kg.

Its sweet, buttery, stringless flesh makes is a prime choice for a wide variety of dishes, from soups and gratins to breads, muffins and more. Butternut squash can be either baked or steamed, but baking intensifies its buttery sweet flavour.

The special shape and the smooth skin of the butternut squash have the advantage of producing less waste than other varieties. But butternut squash also require a special cutting method. First, cut it in half between the neck and the bottom part, then peel both parts. Afterwards cut the bottom part in half and remove the seeds.

See our Butternut squash recipe collection

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Common pumpkin (usually from the Cucurbita pepo species) has been grown in home gardens and by commercial growers long before other varieties of pumpkin found their way into the kitchens of home cooks. The common pumpkin is round or oblong in shape and ranges in skin colour from greenish to light yellow or orange with yellow to orange flesh.

The common pumpkin can weigh up to 100 pounds. As its flesh lacks the sweetness and flavour of other varieties, it is best used for pickling, chutneys, or in dishes with a lot of spices - such as curries or cakes. Indeed, baked goods featuring pumpkin - pies, cakes and more - often call for a generous amount of mixed spice, ginger, cloves and/or cinnamon.

See our Pumpkin recipe collection

Kabocha squash
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Kabocha (a variety of the Cucurbita maxima species) is a small Japanese squash variety, very commonly known as Japanese squash. It has a squat shape and a hard, bumpy dark green skin with faint stripes. Because its sweet, creamy, non-fibrous orange flesh is compared to the taste of cooked chestnuts, it is also called Kuri Kabocha (Kuri is Japanese for chestnut). Its sweet taste makes it a top choice for desserts, cakes and pies. The diameter of the Kabocha can reach up to 30cm.

You can prepare Kabocha in many different ways, including steaming, baking and braising. Depending on its size, Kobocha can be baked whole, pierced in several places.

Try Kabocha and ricotta ravioli

Onion squash
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Also called Hokkaido squash, the onion squash (a variety of the Cucurbita maxima species) is a squat small Japanese variety with bright orange skin and dark orange flesh. What sets the onion squash apart from other varieties is its very soft skin that is edible if the squash is grown organically. Due to some similarity with Kabocha, this variety is also sometimes called Red Kuri Kabocha.

The onion squash is not only valued for its easy preparation – no peeling required – but also for its small size. It can be steamed, baked whole or in pieces, or braised.

Try this warm onion squash salad

Spaghetti squash
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Spaghetti squash (a variety of the Cucurbita pepo species) is a small Japanese variety. It is oblong in shape and reaches 20 to 30cm in length and a weight of 1 to 1.5kg.

Spaghetti squash is not so much used for its taste than for its unique texture. When cooked, the yellow flesh can be pulled out with a fork and looks like spaghetti. Therefore it is often used as a low-calorie or gluten-free alternative to pasta.

Spaghetti squash is cooked or baked whole. In both methods, it should be pierced in several places to ensure even cooking. For cooking in water, place squash in a large pan and cover with water. For oven roasting, bake the squash in a preheated oven at 190 C / Gas 5. It is done when the skin can be pushed down with your finger.

After removing the seeds and fibres from its large cavity, a spaghetti squash yields only about half of its weight in edible flesh.

Try this cheesy baked spaghetti squash recipe

Acorn squash
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From the Cucurbita pepo species, acorn squash is just that - shaped very much like an acorn. The outside is dark green with occasional spots of orange, and the flesh is yellow-orange.

Acorn is a flavourful and versatile squash with sweet flesh. It's a good squash to have to hand for roasting, stuffing and soups, and will keep in a cool, dry spot for several months.

The peel of an acorn squash is not eaten. You can bake the squash by halving it, then placing cut-side-down in a baking dish with about 2cm of water. Bake in a 180 C / Gas 4 oven until the peel can be easily pierced with a knife. The squash flesh can then be scooped out and mashed, or pureed to use in soups.

Try this simple acorn squash recipe

More tips
• Always wash the outside of the squash before peeling or baking.

• Don't bin the seeds! For larger seeds, like in pumpkins, roast them for a healthy and tasty snack! Our Roasting pumpkin seeds article shows you how!

• Many squash varieties are interchangeable in recipes. A recipe for pumpkin cake, for example, will work just as well if you use butternut squash instead. Likewise, a recipe for butternut squash soup will taste great using Kabocha squash.

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