The banana squash is part of the wider Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes gourds or pumpkins. It is a winter squash that can grow quite large in size, with a weight of up to 35 pounds. The vines can extend up to six meters in length, so the plant needs a lot of space and enough time to develop. Banana squash is actually a generic term for several types of cultivars. Most of them have normal colors but pink and blue varieties exist, as well as heirloom types and rainbow squashes with multiple colors. At the start of the twentieth century, banana squashes were extremely fashionable and popular. They later became rarer, as butternut squashes, acorn squashes, spaghetti squashes, baking pumpkins and other winter squash cultivars became more popular. They are still cultivated today, due to the large size, culinary use and interesting shape as an ornamental plant.
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The banana squash has a cylindrical shape, usually with a mild curve. It can reach a diameter of 18 to 22 centimetres, with an average length of 60 to 91 centimetres, so it's a sizeable squash. The outer rind has smooth skin and very thick walls. Banana squashes are known for the very unusual colors, which can be pink, blue, intense yellow or a mix of the above. The flesh has a firm and meaty texture, with an orange color. It has a sweet taste when cooked, with a rich early taste and pleasant fragrance. The middle part is hollow and contains stringy pulp and many small seeds with a creamy color and oblong shape.
The name of the banana squash comes from the particular shape, which often resembles a huge banana. It is harvested during the autumn and winter, but it can be found during the entire year in stores and markets.
All Cucurbita maxima species are native to South America and have been discovered in ancient ruins in Peru. R.H. Shumway was the first to introduce the banana squash to the USA, in 1893. Initially, the Shumway seed catalog was the main source for banana squashes, but other seeds catalogs were quick to follow and offer similar varieties. It became one of the most popular winter squash varieties by the start of the twentieth century. Today, the banana squash has become uncommon and the seeds of many varieties are only preserved by heirloom savers, being rarely found commercially. Farmer markets and specialty stores are a good source for banana squashes in the USA, as well in some of the countries in South and Central America.
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Banana squashes have many possible colors, since there are actually many different cultivars. Some have normal colors like green or yellow but more exotic ones such as blue, orange or pink are also common, as well as mixed ones. A very bright color is an excellent sign that the squash has a great nutritional content, with a rich amount of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The color of the pulp is similar to the one of other squashes, regardless of the skin color.
Squashes are very versatile cooking ingredients and the banana squash is no exception, so it is very easy to include it in your diet. Like any other squash, it can be prepared as a pie or included in soups. The seeds are a very popular snack after roasting and salting, they can also be added as a topping on bakery products and other recipes. The banana squash is rich in nutrients, especially fibers, iron, calcium and the vitamins A, B and C.
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The banana squash is suited for roasting, baking, grilling, steaming, frying and many other cooking methods. Banana squash is a winter squash with orange flesh that can replace any other similar cultivar in recipes, for example the kabocha or the butternut squash. They are very tasty additions in stews, chilies or soups, usually after roasting or slicing in cubes or rings. Some people add it to green salads or as a topping on pizza, but it is also possible to consume the banana squash as an individual dish. Their pair great with herbs like sage, rosemary, cumin, curry, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, thyme or bay. Other products that combine very well with the banana squash are aged sheep's cheeses, cream, pork belly, lamb, truffles, apricot preserves, orange juice, butter or creme fraiche. Cool locations with some humidity are the best for storage, and the squash can be preserved for several months.
Since its early introduction, the banana squash has been especially popular on the American continents. They are traditionally cultivated in the western part of USA, as well as by Mennonite farmers in the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Mennonites favour banana squashes with pink skin. Since the whole squash is very large and difficult to handle, it is usually sold in smaller slices. The large size is one of the reasons why the banana squash has lost popularity against the acorn squash and other smaller varieties that are a lot easier to prepare and serve. However, its relative rarity has now transformed it into a novelty product in some areas.
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Consuming banana squashes regularly can protect against common infections like cold or flu. This is because of the large content of vitamin C, which boosts the response of the immune system and makes it more effective against pathogens.
This vitamin is also a very powerful natural cosmetic agent that provides many benefits. It can eliminate toxic free radicals that hurt the skin, keeping it young and rejuvenated for a longer time. Vitamin C promotes the production of collagen, a compound that gives skin its elasticity, keeping it firm and reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
Besides maintaining the skin young and rejuvenated, collagen is also important for the joints, reducing inflammation and pain. This is because it repairs some joint tissues that serve as natural cushions between the moving parts. Including banana squashes in your menu will provide a good amount of vitamin C and treat swollen and tense joints.
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Banana squashes are also a rich source of calcium, an essential mineral that serves as the building block for bones. It reduces the risk of osteoporosis by preserving bone density and maintaining the structure of the skeleton.
Calcium is also the main component of teeth and gives them durability. As a result, it is important to have a balanced diet that includes a good supply of this key mineral that can help you have a beautiful smile. Calcium preserves teeth integrity and reduces the risk of cavities, delaying the process of tooth decay.
The bright color of the banana squash is an obvious sign that it has a high content of vitamin A. This is an essential vitamin that plays many roles in the body but is particularly required for eye health and good vision.
Squashes are rich in potassium, a mineral that balances fluids inside the body and prevents high blood pressure, with its dangerous consequences. The banana squash is known for its overall benefits for cardiovascular health, especially due to the richness in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that can protect the heart.
They are also an excellent source of iron, another important mineral. Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells and helps transport oxygen inside the body. Without enough iron, the condition known as anemia can develop.
A diet that includes banana squashes is almost guaranteed to prevent constipation and various other digestive issues. The fibers in its composition stimulate regular bowel movements and bulk up the stool, but are also useful for people on weight-loss diets. This is because fibers promote a sensation of fullness, preventing the need for snacks between the main meals.