We all love zucchini and yellow squash during the summer, but as we move into colder seasons, winter squashes like butternut squash start to take center stage. Winter squashes include an incredible array of hard-skinned varieties that are in season from early fall through winter. Most winter squashes belong to the gourd family, although many are technically considered fruit because they contain seeds. Their skin is usually green or orange in color, and you will often find yellow to deep-orange flesh once you cut into one. This flesh has a starchy consistency that becomes smooth and sweet when you cook it.
The Many Health Benefits of Butternut Squash
Don’t be fooled by the creaminess of your favorite butternut squash soup. This winter squash is actually a great source of fiber; 1 cup of butternut squash contains almost 3 grams of dietary fiber, which is 12% of the daily recommended value. This makes it a remarkably heart-friendly choice during colder months. Butternut squash provides significant amounts of potassium, which can alleviate high blood pressure, and vitamin B9 (aka folate), which is essential for the proper functioning of our nervous and immune systems. Folate also stimulates serotonin production in our bodies and can help relieve stress.
Butternut squash is an excellent source of phytochemicals. It's tangerine hue indicates an abundance of nutrients known as carotenoids, which have been shown to protect against heart disease and reduce the risk of certain cancers. The squash also contains a very high level of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that your body then converts into vitamin A — which has been identified as one of the key nutrients to protect against breast cancer and age-related macular degeneration.
One cup of butternut squash contains nearly half the recommended daily dose of vitamin C, which helps to support our immune systems during cold and flu season. As if this weren’t enough, the gourd may also have anti-inflammatory effects because of its high antioxidant content. Incorporating more of this hearty winter staple into your diet could help reduce risk of inflammation-related illnesses like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Tips for Buying, Storing and Cooking Butternut Squash
When it comes to choosing the perfect butternut squash, pick one with unblemished skin that feels heavy for its size. You should select one with matte skin rather than shiny skin; a gleaming exterior might indicate that the fruit was picked too early, meaning it wouldn’t be as sweet as a fully-grown squash.
Butternut squash, like most winter squashes, is available late into the fall. You should store the whole squash in a cool, dry place with lots of ventilation, but not in the refrigerator. If you need to cut up your squash ahead of time, it will stay fresh for up to a week as long as you wrap them up before storing them in the fridge.
Butternut squash can be cooked in many ways, giving us plenty of chances to flex our culinary muscle. If you plan to cook the squash whole, make sure to scrub its skin thoroughly before cooking. But more likely, you’ll want to slice the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and chop it into pieces for cooking. To make this easier, try microwaving the whole squash for about five minutes to soften the skin and flesh; it will be much easier to cut into.
Once it’s chopped up, you can place your chopped squash on a baking sheet, season the pieces and then bake them in the oven for about an hour to make a delicious veggie side. You can also steam or sauté the pieces. Once the squash is fully cooked, you can mash it or even purée it for soup.
Now that you know so many wonderful health benefits, storage tips and cooking ideas related to butternut squash, here are a few Foodsmart recipes to try out this season:
What’s your favorite way to prepare butternut squash? Let us know in the comments below.