By KD Angle-Traegner, Founder & Editor
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.
First things first, use a good peeler. A good peeler will save you a lot of aggravation. I bought a set of stainless steel peelers years ago and still love them. They are sharp, easy to use, and super easy to clean. Peeling hard vegetable skin is a snap. I could peel the rubber off of my tires if I really needed to.
If you don’t have a stainless steel peeler, you can use your microwave to soften the skin prior to peeling.
Here’s how you do it:
- Using a fork, poke holes all over the squash.
- Cut top and bottom off. Discard.
- Put into glass dish. Microwave for 3 1/2 minutes.
- Remove, let cool, and peel as normal.
- Notice how easy it is to peel and congratulate yourself on working smarter, not harder.
And for those who would like a video showing how easy it is to peel and dice up a butternut squash, this one will show you all the things you need to know.
How Do You Cook Butternut Squash?
That depends on the type of dish you are going to prepare. I thought it might be handy to go over a few different ways to cook it.
Basic cooking instructions
- Preheat oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
- Peel skin from butternut squash, then cut lengthwise in half. Scoop out pulp & seeds and discard or save to make roasted butternut squash seeds.
- Place squash, cut side down, in a 9×13 glass baking dish.
- Pour a small amount of water (1/4 cup at most) around squash halves.
- Bake until tender – 45 minutes – 1 hour depending on size of squash.
or, you can try my personal favorite method, which I call “the simplest way to cook a butternut squash in existence”
- Preheat oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
- Place entire butternut squash into a 9×13 glass baking dish. No cutting, no poking, just the whole squash.
- Bake until tender – roughly 1 – 1 1/2 hours depending on size of squash.
How do you roast butternut squash?
- Preheat oven to 400 °F (200 °C).
- Peel skin from butternut squash, then cut lengthwise in half. Scoop out pulp & seeds. Dice into one inch cubes.
- Toss cubes in 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil (or oil of your choice).
- Arrange butternut squash in a single layer on a lined cookie sheet or glass baking dish.
- Cook until tender and golden, stirring once, for about 25-30 minutes.
How long do you steam butternut squash?
- Fill the steamer with 2 inches water.
- Peel skin from butternut squash, then cut into one inch cubes.
- Steam covered until tender, about 5 – 8 minutes.
So, how many cups do you get from one butternut squash?
One pound of winter squash will provide about two cups of cooked pieces.
Vegan Butternut Squash Recipes
- Butternut Squash Walnut & Sage Pasta | Love and Lemons
- Roasted Butternut Squash with Curried Jeweled Quinoa | Elephant Journal
- Tom Kha Gai Butternut Squash Soup | The Minimalist Baker
- Butternut Squash Risotto | Holy Cow
I hope you have been inspired to include butternut squash in your healthy vegan diet. Still have questions? Feel free to email me. Enjoy!
All references were retrieved October 5, 2015
- Wikipedia. “Butternut Squash.“
- Apple Country Living. “A Familiar Squash with Surprising Origins.“
- World’s Healthiest Foods. “Squash, Winter.“
- US National Library of Medicine. “Vitamin A.“
- Nutrition and You. “Butternut Squash.“
- Nutrition Facts. “Butternut Squash.“