Everyone knows that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is better for our health, but how do you know exactly what that means? That’s where we come in. Our Nutrition Spotlight profiles the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables in an easy-to-understand way. We’ll cover shopping tips, basic preparation methods, a bit of history, and offer up some vegan recipes to help inspire you in the kitchen.
Let’s look at Butternut Squash. Also known as winter squash and butternut pumpkin (Australia & New Zealand), it has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin. It has a tough outer yellow skin and a deep orange flesh on the inside. A versatile vegetable, its adaptability is demonstrated by the wide variety of of uses to which it is used in different countries around the globe. Being a member of the winter squash family, fresh butternut squash is typically available from September until the middle of December. However, due to its long shelf life, butternut squash can easily be found all season long.
The History of Butternut Squash
Winter squash has an interesting history. The most popular variety, the Waltham Butternut, is said to have been developed at the Waltham Experiment Station by Robert E. Young. (1) However, Dorothy Leggett, widow of Charles Leggett, has made claims that the Waltham Butternut Squash was actually developed by her husband, Charles, in Stow, Massachusetts. According to Dorothy, Charles Leggett introduced his creation to the researchers at the Waltham Field Station. (2)
From the article A Familiar Squash with Surprising Origins:
According to Mrs. Leggett, it was during the mid 1940’s that Leggett developed the butternut squash, after crossing the gooseneck squash with other varieties. Gooseneck squash were long and gangly, and difficult to transport because of their irregular shape. Another common squash at the time, the Hubbard squash, was very large, with a hard skin and flesh that was also hard to cut. Leggett wanted something smaller than a Hubbard squash, with a compact, regular form and flesh that was easier to prepare.
The amazing phytonutrient content of butternut squash makes it a well-balanced food source that is rich in dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates. Carotenoids, the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant orange color, found in winter squash include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin. They act as antioxidants with strong cancer-fighting properties. Pectin-containing cell wall polysaccharides are important anti-inflammatory nutrients, as are cucurbitacins, both found in squash. (3)
Did you know that butternut squash has more vitamin A than pumpkin? It’s true. Winter squash has the highest levels of vitamin A in the entire Cucurbitaceae family with about 10630 IU per 100 grams, or 354% of RDA. Some studies suggest that foods rich in vitamin A help protect the body against lung and oral cavity cancers. (4) Butternut squash is also rich in the B-complex group of vitamins like folates, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, thiamin, and pantothenic acid. (6)
Even the seeds are healthy! Butternut squash seeds are a good source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which benefit heart health. In addition, they are rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins. Butternut squash seeds are a nutritious vegan snack option, containing 35-40% oil and 30% protein. (5)
Buying & Storing a Butternut Squash
Buy a whole butternut squash instead of sections. Look for a mature squash that has a woody note upon tapping and is heavy in your hand. The heaviness indicates a high moisture content, since squashes will gradually lose water after harvesting. The bigger squashes tend to have a highly developed flavor. Make sure the stem is firmly attached to the fruit. Avoid butternut squashes with green tinges, wrinkled surfaces, spots, cuts, and/or bruises. If you can push a fingernail into the rind of a squash, it is immature and will be lacking in flavor and sweetness.
One of the great things about butternut squashes is that they are among the longest keeping vegetables. Store ripe squashes in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place where they will keep for three months or more. At room temperature or in the refrigerator they will deteriorate more quickly, but will still last a couple weeks.
How to Peel a Butternut Squash (Without Cutting Yourself)
The outer skin of a butternut squash is tough, and peeling it can seem a chore. Peeling and cleaning a butternut squash is the number one reason why a lot of people don’t eat them more often. Let me tell you a secret though, peeling a butternut squash is a snap.