Winter Squash facts and health benefits

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Winter Squash facts and health benefits

Winter Squash Quick Facts
Name: Winter Squash
Scientific Name: Cucurbita maxima
Origin Temperate South America– Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay.
Colors White, yellow, pale grayish blue, orange with green jagged stripes
Shapes Large, globose to ovoid or obovoid berry
Flesh colors Yellow orange
Taste Sweet
Calories 46 Kcal./cup
Major nutrients Vitamin C (14.22%)
Vitamin B6 (13.77%)
Total dietary Fiber (11.84%)
Vitamin A (11.29%)
Vitamin B5 (9.28%)
Health benefits Combat Cancer, Help Prevent or Reduce Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis, Digestive health, Provides Immune Support,Beneficial for skin and hair, Supports Bone Health and Helps Prevent Osteoporosis, Helps heal wounds faster, Lower Risk of Heart Problems, Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
More facts about Winter Squash
Cucurbita maxima also known as Winter squash is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family and relatives of both the melon and the cucumber and is native to temperate South America– Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay and come in many different varieties. While each type varies in shape, color, size and flavor, they all share some common characteristics. Winter squash is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the Americas. Seeds found in Mexico have been dated to be 10,000 years old. Winter squash are not grown or harvested in winter, but picked when fully ripe and feature a hard shell (rind) with thick, inedible skin and hollow seed cavity with fully developed seeds. The thick shell allows it to be stored for several months. Autumn Squash, Banana Squash, Buttercup Squash, Giant Pumpkin, Hubbard Squash, Japanese Squash and Sweet-Fleshed Pumpkin are some of the popular common names of winter squash. Winter Squash differs from summer squash in that it is harvested and eaten in the mature fruit stage, when the seeds within have matured fully and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. Some popular varieties of winter squash are Acorn Squash, Butternut Squash, Delicata squash, Hubbard Squash, Kabocha Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Sweet Dumpling Squash, Turban Squash, Banana Squash, Buttercup Squash and Calabaza Squash.


Winter Squash are a monoecious, annual, trailing herb growing up to1.5 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 15 feet wide. It is a warm-season vegetable and prefers well-drained, fertile, loose soil, high in organic matter. It has extensive but shallow root system with a branched tap root. Stems are normally rounded and soft, long running, softly pubescent, often rooting at nodes. Leaves are alternate, simple, exstipulate; petiole 5–20 cm long; lamina usually reniform, not lobed, deeply cordate at base, margins finely toothed, softly hairy, occasionally with white blotches, 3-veined from the base. Flower is solitary, axillary, unisexual, regular, pentamerous, large, 10–20 cm across, lemon yellow to orange-yellow colored.


Winter Squash is a comforting, flavorful, and nutritious food native to temperate South America. Shape, color, size and flavor of winter squash differ according to its types but all share some common characteristics. Winter squash plant bears winter squash which is large, globose to ovoid or obovoid berry. Color of fruit may vary according to its varieties but are mainly white, yellow, pale grayish blue, orange with green jagged stripes. Fruit bears a stalk which is soft, cylindrical, corky, not ridged and not flared at the point of attachment. It has moderately hard rind and yellow orange colored flesh which is extremely attractive. Weight of fully grown winter squash may range up to 50 kg. It has mild, sweet flavor and more sweet and gratifying taste which is suitable for many food items. Fully matured fruit consists of seeds that are obovoid, flattened, 1.5–2.5 cm × 1–1.5 cm, white to pale brown, with smooth or somewhat rough surface. Due to its delightful and gratifying taste as well as healthy nutritional value it is found used since ancient times in several food items throughout the world.


Cucurbita maxima are a native of temperate South America– Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay. Cucurbita maxima are the only species which is originated in South America. They have been in cultivation for over 4000 years. These fruits are still very popular in America, and are now increasing in popularity across the world as more breeding is been done to produce cultivars that store better and ripen earlier. Nowadays it is found grown throughout the world due to its higher nutritional value and sweet taste.

Nutritional Value

Apart from their mild, sweet flavor and more sweet and gratifying taste winter squash is a good source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Consuming 116 gram of winter squash offers 12.8 mg of Vitamin C, 0.179 mg of Vitamin B6, 4.5 g of Total dietary Fiber, 79 µg of Vitamin A, 0.464 mg of Vitamin B5 and 0.208 mg of Manganese. Moreover many Amino acids 0.032 g of Tryptophan, 0.07 g of Threonine, 0.09 g of Isoleucine, 0.132 g of Leucine and 0.086 g of Lysine are also found in 116 gram of winter squash.

Health benefits of Winter Squash

Not all foods are as comforting, flavorful, and nutritious as the winter squash. Whether your favorite is pumpkin, butternut, or acorn, they all have a plenty of striking health perks. Winter squash is a wonderful source of vitamin A, which is important for good vision and immune function. This vitamin A comes from natural carotenoids found in winter squash that are powerful disease-fighting and anti-cancer compounds that offer fruits and vegetables their bright red, orange, or yellow color. In fact, no single food on Earth offers a greater percentage of certain carotenoids than winter squash! This powerful mixture of health benefits, as well as the many varieties to try, makes winter squash perfect for long winters! Listed are some popular benefits of winter squash:

1. Combat Cancer

High consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits has a link to a minimized risk for various types of cancer. Research had suggested that high-dose of vitamin C can enhance the cancer-killing effect of drugs used in chemotherapy for cancer patients. Researchers consider that vitamin C can be a safe and cost-effective treatment for cancers. Increased consumption of winter squash is linked with a decreased possibility of cancers of the lungs, mouth, vocal chords, throat, colon, rectum, stomach, and esophagus since winter squash consists of 12.8 mg of vitamin c which is 14.22% of the daily recommended value.

2. Help Prevent or Reduce Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is caused due to the lower levels of vitamin B6. Certain earlier researches find that people with RA need more vitamin B6 when compared with healthy people because they experience constant muscle aches and joint pain because of chronic inflammation. Vitamin B6 present in winter squash is found beneficial for curbing pain and can be useful in supplement form for controlling aches in the muscles and joints due to arthritis.

3. Digestive health

Winter squash consists of considerable amount of dietary fiber which helps to normalizes bowel movements by bulking up stools and making them easier to pass. It relieves and prevents both constipation and diarrhea. Consuming plenty of fiber can reduce your risk for diverticulitis (inflammation of the intestine), kidney stones, hemorrhoids, gallstones and provide relief for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many researches have indicated that a high-fiber diet help to lower gastric acid and reduce your risk for gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) and ulcers.

4. Provides Immune Support

Several immune system functions are dependent on adequate vitamin A, that’s why it is known as an important immune booting vitamin. Genes involved in immune responses are regulated by Vitamin A, which means it is essential for fighting serious conditions like cancer and autoimmune diseases, but also illnesses like the flu or common colds.

Beta-carotene is powerful antioxidants that help boost the immune system and prevent a variety of chronic illnesses. Vitamin A can help the immunity of children. Research done in London found that vitamin A supplements reduced child mortality by 24 % in low and middle-income countries. Research also found that vitamin A deficiency in kids increased their vulnerability to infections like diarrhea and measles. Therefore vitamin A rich food must be included in your regular diet to get the required amount of vitamin A.

5. Beneficial for skin and hair

Vitamin B5 also known as pantothenic Acid helps to keep the skin healthy and attractive in appearance. It also helps to delay the appearance of premature aging signs on the skin like wrinkles and age spots. Studies have shown that Vitamin B5 plays an important role in the pigmentation of hair and prevents it from losing its color until you are well into your older years. So winter squash must be included in your regular diet since it consists of 0.464 mg of vitamin B5 which is 9.28% of the daily recommended value.

6. Supports Bone Health and Helps Prevent Osteoporosis

Manganese along with other minerals like calcium, zinc and copper help to reduce bone loss, particularly in older women who are more susceptible to bone fractures and weak bones. Manganese deficiency also shams a risk for bone-related disorders since manganese helps with the formation of bone regulatory hormones and enzymes involved in bone metabolism.

Research suggest taking manganese along with other bone-supporting nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, copper and boron to improve bone mass in women with weak bones, which is useful to naturally treat osteoporosis. Winter Squash is one of the best sources of manganese as it consists of 0.208 mg of manganese which is 9.04% of the daily recommended value.

7. Helps heal wounds faster

Due to its huge anti-bacterial, an anti-viral and anti-inflammatory feature, copper is a great tool for healing wounds quickly. Apart from that, copper is also known to strengthen your immune system and aid in the production of new cells. But its healing properties don’t stop with helping the body externally; copper is also known to help wounds within the body, especially the stomach. Winter squash consists of significant amount of copper which is extremely beneficial for healing wounds faster.

8. Lower Risk of Heart Problems

Taking in a sufficient amount of winter squash helps to lower the risk of developing heart problems like stroke and heart disease as it consists of extensive amount of potassium. If you’ve previously diagnosed with a heart problem, you’ve likely been told to watch your level of potassium.

Apart from that foods that rich in potassium also contain antioxidants and other minerals which help your heart and lead to greater overall healthiness. So to complete your heart health profile make sure you’re getting sufficient amount of potassium rich foods and exercise each day, such as a walk, strength training, or yoga.

9. Prevents Alzheimer’s disease

Winter squash consists of vitamin B1 which is considered to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. People suffering from this disease have benefited when treated with vitamin B1 supplements of 100 mg per day. So include winter squash in your regular diet to obtain required amount of vitamin B1.

Types of Winter Squash

Winter squash are some of the most delicious and versatile ingredients of the season. Unlike summer squash, they are harvested in autumn when they are hard and ripe, and most varieties can be stored and enjoyed for use through the winter. Here’s a guide to some common varieties of winter squash, and what you need to know about each.

1. Acorn Squash

Acorn SquashAcorn squash were the most commonly obtainable squash in the U.S. They are a great all-around squash, with moist, sweet, tender flesh. They are good for roasting, baking, steaming, mashing, and sauteeing. Smaller ones are perfect for stuffing and make an excellent vegetarian main course for special occasions like Thanksgiving.

2. Butternut Squash

Butternut SquashButternut squash is the sweetest winter squash. Its flesh is thick and moist and hides very few seeds; its peel is comparatively thin and easy to peel. It is a versatile squash that roasts and sautees quickly.

3. Delicata squash

Delicata squashDelicata squash is small, oblong, and cheerfully striped in bright yellow, dark green, and orange. The peel is exceptionally thin and is, in fact, edible. Because of its thin skin, however, it does not store as long or as easily as other winter squash.

4. Hubbard Squash

Hubbard SquashHubbard squash are the largest winter squash you’ll find. They are slightly tear-shaped with dark green to pale grayish blue skins.

5. Kabocha Squash

Kabocha SquashKabocha squash have a remarkably sweet and tender flesh with a slightly nutty flavor. The peel is really more of a rind and is difficult to cut. The dense, smooth, sweet flesh is so tasty it needs very little fuss in preparation.

6. Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti SquashSpaghetti squash are all about the texture. Once cooked the flesh pulls apart into thick, slightly crisp, noodle-like strands. Many people then serve it with tomato sauce.

7. Sweet Dumpling Squash

Sweet Dumpling SquashThe yellow skin with bright orange or deep green stripes makes this small, terribly cute squash hard to resist. The flesh is starchy with a slight corn flavor. The small size makes them perfect for stuffing and roasting.

8. Turban Squash

Turban SquashTurban squash come in lovely, irregular, turban shapes and a range of mottled green, orange, and yellow colors. They have interested bumpy skin and are widely used as decoration. They can, unlike decorative gourds, be roasted and eaten.

9. Banana Squash

 Banana SquashA long oblong-shaped squash with a tan or cream-colored thick outer skin and a golden fine textured inner flesh. Size may range from 2 to 3 feet in length, so the squash is most often sold as quartered sections in food stores.

10. Buttercup Squash

Buttercup SquashA winter squash, typically weighing 5 to 7 pounds, that is round in shape and grows with a very distinctive protruding ring around the flower end opposite the stem end. Dark green with narrow grey stripes, the thin outer skin surrounds a rich, sweet-flavored, somewhat nutty tasting orange flesh that is fine-grained, creamy textured and dense in consistency.

11. Calabaza Squash

Calabaza SquashA round pear-shaped squash that is found in a variety of sizes ranging from a few inches in diameter, similar to a small canteloupe up to two feet. The skin color ranges from green to light tan or orange and covers a firm golden orange flesh, slightly firmer than the flesh of a pumpkin. With a sweet mild flavor, this squash can be prepared just like other squashes such as acorn and butternut.

12. Carnival Squash

 Carnival SquashA small to medium sized squash ranging in diameter from 5 to 7 inches. Round and hard skinned, the inner, somewhat stringy flesh has a mellow, but sweet flavor similar to sweet potatoes. This squash can be baked, pureed, or steamed to be served as a side dish seasoned with butter and herbs, or used as a base for soups and stews.

13. Chinese Winter Squash

Chinese Winter SquashIt is typically a larger variety squash that has a waxy dark green speckled skin that contains tiny prickly hairs. The outer skin covers a white firm inner flesh. This vegetable is widely grown to be eaten raw or as a cooked and roasted vegetable.

14. Golden Nugget Squash

Golden Nugget SquashIt ranges in size from one to three pounds. The outer flesh is thick and as the squash matures, it changes from a glossy orange to a duller orange appearance, which indicates that it is ready to harvest. The meat inside is pale yellow in color and limited in volume, but it provides a flavorful meal when cooked.

15. Iran Winter Squash

Iran Winter SquashIt is grown from heirloom seeds. It is not commonly found, since it is grown from heirloom seeds. Large and pumpkin-like in appearance with a round shape and flat outer ribs, this squash will grow to a weight of 20 to 25 pounds at maturity. The outer skin may be green, salmon-orange, or white in color, while the meat is pale orange and somewhat dense in texture.

16. Red Kuri Squash

Red Kuri SquashA thick-skinned orange colored squash that has the appearance of an oblong pumpkin without the ridges. Inside the hard outer skin there is a firm flesh that provides a very delicate and mellow flavor similar to the taste of chestnuts.

17. Stripetti Squash

Stripetti SquashA large oval shaped green and tan colored squash that has a watermelon appearance in shape and color. It is a cross between the Delicata and the Spaghetti squash. A thick outer skin, which is very similar to the Delicata, covers a golden stringy-textured inner flesh, like that of the Spaghetti squash.

18. Sweet Mama Squash

 Sweet Mama SquashA winter squash that is a variety of buttercup squash. It has a round, pumpkin shape weighing approximately 3 to 4 pounds. The squash has a bluish-gray to dark green skin covering a thick, fine-grained golden meat that provides a sweet flavor when cooked.

19. Ukrainian Winter Squash

Ukrainian Winter SquashA pumpkin-like squash that is large and round, easily growing to a size of 15 to 25 pounds at maturity. With a flat-ribbed outer skin that turns orange or bluish-green when ripe, this squash has bright orange meat that is smooth and densely textured. Inside the squash there are numerous large seeds that can be roasted and eaten for a snack.

How to Eat

  • Flowers, fruit, and long tendril shoots and leaves are enjoyed as vegetable.
  • Tender young shoots and leaves are cooked as vegetables and used as a potherb or added to soups and stews.
  • Squash and pumpkin blossoms are edible raw or cooked are frequently sold in local markets in Southeast Asia.
  • They are dipped in batter and fried.
  • Fruit is delicious when baked, or peeled, cut into pieces and cooked until soft or used in stews and pies and also jams.
  • Fruit is largely used by Indians in their curries.
  • Mature fruit is made into a popular porridge in Zimbabwe.
  • Flesh can be dried, ground into a powder and used with cereals in making bread and cakes.
  • Seeds are commonly roasted and salted, or ground into a thick paste that is mixed with vegetables in cooking. A seed are eaten raw, dried or roasted and serves as snack food in some African countries like Nigeria and Cameroon.
  • Seed can be ground into a powder and used with cereals in making breads.
  • Seed is rich in oil, which has a very pleasing nutty flavor and used for cooking.

Other Traditional uses and benefits of Winter Squash

  • Fruit is diuretic, tonic, and allays thirst; fruit pulp is often used to treat inflammations and boils.
  • Dried pulp is a cure for haemoptysis and hemorrhages from the pulmonary organs, being given in the form of a confection.
  • Fruit pulp is used as a calming poultice on burns, inflammations and boils.
  • Fruit pulp is used as poultice for carbuncles, boils and ulcers in India.
  • For poisonous insect bites, the fruit stalk in contact with the ripe gourd is cut, dried, and made into a paste and applied to venomous insect bites, especially centipedes.
  • The paste is also used for ear-ache.
  • Seeds are anthelmintic and used as vermifuge, diuretic and tonic.
  • Seeds pulped or in emulsion, are employed as vermifuge and are eaten fresh to expel worms from the stomach.
  • As a diuretic they are given in gonorrhea and urinary diseases.
  • Oil from the seed has been used as a nerve tonic.
  • Skin problems such as sores and ulcers are attributed to pumpkin seed oil in North America.
  • Indians traditionally use the seeds to treat intestinal infections and kidney problems and to expel tapeworms.
  • Flowers are used topically to soothe minor injuries.
  • Seeds are also used as an anthelmintic in Southern Europe.
  • Seeds of Cucurbita maxima are frequently used for stomach pain, as an anti-inflamatory and antipyretic, and for the treatment of worms in Brazil.

Other Facts

  • Big, yellow-orange fruits of certain varieties are used for decoration.
  • Dried fruit rinds are used for making bowls.
  • A nourishing facemask can be made from the flesh which is effective for dry skins.
  • Seed contains 34–54% of semidrying oil and has been used for lighting.
  • Matured fruits are used as live-stock feed.

Ways to Cook Winter Squash

If you’ve never handled one of those thick-skinned winter squashes before, the idea of cooking with it can be a little intimidating. Several recipes call for pre-cooked squash. Learn how to make the most of the creamy flesh of winter squash.

1. Baking Method

Cut smaller squash (like acorn squash) in half; scoop out the seeds. Place 2 teaspoons honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup and 1 tablespoon butter into their centers. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven for about 30 minutes, or till easily pierced with a fork.

2. Boiling

This method is faster than steaming. Place peeled squash pieces in a small amount of boiling water. Cook until the squash is tender. Drain well. Cooking times is 5 minutes. It may dilute the flavor of the squash and cause some nutrient loss.

3. Sautéing

Grate, peel or dice squash. Sauté in broth or in a mix of broth and oil until desired tenderness. Tip: Grated squash is best if it is cooked just to the point where it is still slightly crunchy. Cooking time is 8 to 15 minutes.

4. Steaming

Place a metal colander or basket over a pot with about an inch of water in it. Place seeded squash halves or squash pieces in the colander cut-side down. Cover the pot. Cook over boiling water until tender. Cooking time is 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Microwaving

Arrange squash halves, cut-side up, in a shallow microwavable dish. Cover, and cook until tender. Let the squash stand for 5 minutes after cooking. Cooking time for squash halves is 7 to 10 minutes. Cooking time for chunks is 6 to 8 minutes.

6. Puréeing

All squash varieties can be puréed. Cook squash using the methods above. Then place cooked squash in a blender. If you don’t have a blender, you can mash the squash. Puréed squash can be used in recipes for baked goods, soups, custards, or as a side dish in place of potatoes.

7. Freezing

Cooked squash freezes well. Pack into freezer containers or freezer bags leaving 1/2 inch head space. Frozen squash stays fresh for up to one year.







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