Butternut squash is one of the most popular winter-squash vegetables. Butternuts are annual long trailing vines. This squash is usually cultivated under warmer climates of South and Central American regions for their edible fruits, flowers, as well as seeds.
Botanically, it belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family of field pumpkins; probably originated in the Central American region. Oftentimes in the markets, butternut may be identified as a large pear-shaped, golden-yellow pumpkin instead of squash.
Scientific name: Cucurbita morschata.
|Ripe butternut squash in the market.
Photo courtesy: drsuru
The butternut plant is monoecious as in pumpkins, and features distinct male and female flowers which require honeybees for effective fruiting. Butternut, in-fact, is the most common among winter-squash vegetables.
|Immature butternut squash growing in the garden!
Externally, butternut is a large-sized fruit featuring upper long, thick neck attached to pear-shaped lower base. Its external surface has smooth, ribbed skin. Even so, the fruit varies widely in its shape and size; with individual fruit may weighing up to 15 kg. Interiorly, its flesh is golden-yellow to orange depending up on color pigments. Cross-section at lower bulb part features central hollow cavity containing mesh-like mucilaginous fibers interspersed with large, flat, elliptical seeds similar to that of Pepita (pumpkin seeds). The fruit's unique golden-yellow color comes from yellow-orange phenolic pigments in their skin and pulp.
Butternut squash seeds are eaten as nutritious snack food since they contain 35-40% oil and 30% protein. In Argentina, it is also used to feed livestock.
Butternut squash composes of many vital poly-phenolic anti-oxidants and vitamins. As in other Cucurbitaceae members, butternut too has very low calories; 100 g provides just 45 calories. It contains no saturated fats or cholesterol; however, is rich source of dietary fiber and phyto-nutrients. Squash is one of the common vegetables that often recommended by dieticians in the cholesterol controlling and weight-reduction programs.
It has more vitamin A than that of in pumpkin. At 10630 IU per 100 g, it is perhaps the single vegetable source in the Cucurbitaceae family with the highest levels of vitamin-A, constituting about 354% of RDA. Vitamin A is a powerful natural anti-oxidant and is required by the body for maintaining the integrity of skin and mucusa. It is also an essential vitamin for optimum eye-sight. Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin A help the body protected against lung and oral cavity cancers.
Furthermore, butternut squash has plenty of natural poly-phenolic flavonoid compounds like a and ß-carotenes, cryptoxanthin-ß, and lutein. These compounds convert into vitamin A inside the body and deliver same protective functions of vitamin A on the body.
It is rich in B-complex group of vitamins like folates, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
It has similar mineral profile as that in pumpkin, containing adequate levels of minerals like iron, zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
Butternut squash seeds are a good source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids that benefit for heart health. In addition, they are rich in protein, minerals, and numerous health-benefiting vitamins. The seeds are an excellent source of health promoting amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan converts to health benefiting GABA neuro-chemical in the human brain.
Being a winter-squash member, butternuts can be readily available in the USA markets from September until the middle of December. However, since many fruits arrive into USA from South American continent, they can be easily found all around the season.
Buy well-grown whole butternut squash instead of its sections. Look for mature product that features fine woody note on tapping, and heavy in hand. Its stem should be stout and firmly attached to the fruit.
Avoid those with wrinkled surface, spots, cuts, and bruises.
Once at home, well-ripen squash can be stored for many weeks in cool, humid-free, well-ventilated place at room temperature. However, cut sections should be placed inside the refrigerator where they keep well for few days.
As in pumpkins, some hybrid squash varieties are generally subjected to insecticide powder or spray. Therefore, wash them thoroughly in running water in order to remove dirt, soil and any residual insecticides/fungicides.
Whenever possible, buy long neck butternut fruit as it contains more meat and fewer hollow cavities and seeds. Cut the stem end and slice the whole fruit into two equal halves. Remove central net-like structure and set aside seeds. Then cut into desired sizes. In general, wedges/small cubes are used in cooking preparations.
Almost all the parts of the butternut squash plant; fruit, leaves, flowers, and seeds are edible.
Here are some serving tips:
|Beautiful winter squash sections!
Photo courtesy: sinksanctity
|Butternut squash soup.
Photo courtesy: karenandbrademerson
Being a member of pumpkin family, butternut squash has a pleasant nutty flavor and mildly sweet taste. Fresh raw butternut cubes may add special tang to vegetable salads.
It found favorite in both savory as well as a sweet dishes. It can be used in variety of delicious recipes as baked, stuffed, or stew-fried; however, eaten best by steam cooking in order to get maximum nutrients.
In Mexico, butternut squash bisque (soup) with added fruits, herbs or seafood is a favorite appetizer.
As in pumpkins, it can also be used in the preparations of casseroles, pies, pancakes, custard, ravioli, bread, muffins...etc.
Roasted and tossed butternut squash seeds can be used as snacks.
butternut squash has no known reported cases of allergic reactions, and may be safely used in pregnancy and in nursing mothers. However, being a member of cucurbita, some fruits may carry cucurbitacin toxin. It is therefore, bitter tasting butternuts should be avoided in the cookings. (Medical disclaimer).
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