Butternut squash is one of the most popular winter squash vegetables. Butternuts grow on an annual long trailing vines. This variety of squash is widely cultivated under warmer climates of South and Central American regions for their edible fruits, blossoms (flowers), as well as seeds.
Botanically, it belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family of field pumpkins; probably originated in the Central American region. Often in the markets, they may identify as giant pear-shaped, golden-yellow pumpkins instead of squash.
Scientific name: Cucurbita morschata.
|Mature butternut squash in the market.
Photo courtesy: drsuru
Butternut, in fact, is the most common among winter squash vegetables. It is a monoecious ( separate male and female flowers appear on the same plant) as in pumpkins. Honeybees help in pollination and productive fruiting.
|Immature butternut squash growing in the garden!
Externally, butternut is a large sized fruit featuring upper elongated, thick neck attached to a broad, 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 weigh up to 15 kilos. Interiorly, its flesh is golden-yellow to orange depending upon carotene pigments. Cross-section at lower bulb part reveals a central hollow cavity filled with the network of mucilaginous fibers interspersed with flat, elliptical seeds. The seeds are similar to that of Pepita (pumpkin seeds). Butternut's unique golden-yellow color is due to yellow-orange phenolic pigments in their skin and pulp.
Butternut squash seeds are nutritious and contain 35-40% oil and 30% protein. In Argentina, the whole crop is also grown to feed livestock.
Butternut squash composes of many vital polyphenolic antioxidants and vitamins. Like 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 a rich source of dietary fiber and phytonutrients. 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 10,630 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 mucosa. It is also an essential vitamin for healthy eyesight. Research studies suggest that natural foods rich in vitamin-A help the human body protected against lung and oral cavity cancers.
Furthermore, butternut squash has plenty of natural polyphenolic 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 in the body.
It is rich in the B-complex group of vitamins like folates, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
It has a similar mineral profile as that in pumpkin, containing adequate levels of minerals like iron, zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
Butternut squash seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids that benefit for heart health. Also,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 neurochemical in the human brain.
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||0.1 g||0.5%|
|Dietary Fiber||2 g||5%|
|Pantothenic acid||0.400 mg||8%|
|Vitamin A||10630 IU||354%|
|Vitamin C||21 mg||35%|
|Vitamin E||1.44 mg||10%|
|Vitamin K||1.1 µg||1%|
Butternut squash, being a member of the winter squash vegetables, can be readily available in the USA markets from September until the middle of December. However, since they imported from the South American continent to the USA, they can be easily found year round in the markets.
Buy fresh whole butternut squash instead of its cut sections. Look for a mature produce that features a 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, mature squash can be stored for many weeks in a cool, humid-free, well-ventilated place at room temperature. However, cut sections should be placed in the refrigerator wrapped in a plastic bag where they keep well for few days.
As in pumpkins, some hybrid squash varieties subjected to insecticide powder or spray. Therefore, wash them thoroughly under running water to remove dirt, soil and any residual insecticides/fungicides.
Long neck butternut fruit contains more meat, shallow cavity, and fewer seeds. Cut the stem end and slice the whole fruit into two halves. Remove inner net-like structure and set aside seeds. In general, wedges/small cubes employed in the recipes.
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
Being a member of pumpkin family, butternut squash has a pleasant musky flavor and mildly sweet taste. Fresh raw butternut cubes may add a special crunchiness to vegetable salads.
It is a favorite of chefs in both savory as well as a sweet dishes. It can be used in a variety of delicious recipes as baked, stuffed, or stir-fried. Steam cook to get maximum nutrients.
|Butternut squash soup.
Photo courtesy: karenandbrademerson
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, and muffins.
Roasted and tossed butternut squash seeds can be used as snacks.
Butternut squash has no known reported cases of allergic reactions. Pregnant and nursing mothers can eat it safely. However, being a member of cucurbits, some fruits may carry cucurbitacin toxin. Therefore, bitter tasting butternuts, raw or cooked, should be completely avoided. (Medical disclaimer).
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Further reading and Resources:
Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk. (Link opens in new window).