Butternut Squash

Cucurbita moschata

Herbs gallery - Butternut Squash

A winter squash variety, butternut squash (botanical name Cucurbita moschata) has a sweet, nutty flavour akin to that of ripened pumpkins. While the exterior of this squash is yellow, inside it has an orange-hued fleshy pulp, which turns deep orange when ripe and sweeter as well as richer. The butternut squash is a trailing plant.

Butternut squash is indigenous to Mexico and neighbouring regions. The flesh of this flavourful fruit can be successfully used in several dishes. Loaded with different vitamins, butternut squash can be stored for a very long period - for about three months, provided the fruit is kept in a cool and dry place.

Although butternut squash is termed as a "winter squash", terms like "winter squash" and "summer squash" are virtually irrelevant in contemporary times, as both varieties of squash are available almost throughout the year. Nevertheless, a summer squash is a type of squash having a thin skin and it perishes within a few days or at the most a week. Zucchini is an excellent example of "summer squash". Butternut squash has been categorized as a "winter squash" as the skin of this fruit is very thick and it is also because it has a prolonged shelf life.

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Butternut squash grows on a vine and ideally the fruits should be harvested when they are completely ripe. Normally it takes about three months for the butternut to mature completely. Ripened butternut squash fruits that are ready for harvesting generally weigh about 2 pounds to 3 pounds and measure anything between 8 inches (20 cm) and 12 inches (30 cm). The taste of fully ripened butternut squash is sweet and nutty. Several people compare the flavor of butternut squash to that of a pumpkin or sweet potatoes.

While this fruit is indigenous to Mexico and neighbouring regions, Waltham Butternut is the most popular variety of butternut squash that was originally cultivated in Massachusetts. In fact, over the centuries different types of squash have been a vital part of various cuisines of different regions. According to a section of historians as well as archaeologists, people who inhabit the region now called Mexico have been cooking and consuming squash since 5500 B.C.E.

Butternut squash may be prepared in various ways and several chefs across the globe slice the ripened fruit into half, put various ingredients on its internal flesh, bake the fruit and serve the preparation in the shell itself. In addition, you may add the butternut squash flesh to several different types of recipes. Even the pulp of the squash is used in various dishes, including soups, custards, breads and pies. The thick skin or shell of the fruit may be used to serve the dishes prepared with butternut squash.

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Besides its sweet and delectable taste, butternut squash is also an excellent natural source of vital vitamins and many essential minerals. The succulent flesh of this fruit encloses vitamin C and vital minerals like magnesium, potassium and manganese. The fruit is also a wonderful source of nutritional fiber.

While butternut squash is considered to be a fruit, it can be used like a vegetable. Butternut squash can be toasted; roasted; crushed and used in breads, casseroles and muffins; and also pureed for soups.

People in Australia consider butternut squash to be a kind of pumpkin and use it alternatively with various other pumpkin varieties. It is also widely used in South Africa, where people frequently use the fruit to prepare a soup or grill the whole fruit. Usually, grilled butternut squash is seasoned using various spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Some people also stuff the ripened butternut squash with feta and spinach and wrap it with a foil before grilling the fruit. Often, people serve the grilled butternut squash in the form of a side dish to accompany braais (barbecues), while the soup prepared with this fruit is used in the form of a starter.

Butternut squash is an excellent natural source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, dietary fiber and as said before minerals like potassium, manganese and magnesium.

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If you check the nutrients contained by butternut squash, you will find that this fruit encloses all the ingredients that are necessary for fat burning. In addition, it contains very few calories, and it does not enclose any amount of cholesterol and sodium - all things considered harmful for a healthy body. You will also notice that butternut squash contains very moderate amount of carbohydrates and proteins, while its fiber count is also reasonable. This is an excellent formula for burning fat and, hence, butternut squash is not just a fruit, but a healthy crop.

In addition to facilitating fat burning, butternut also encloses a variety of vitamins and essential minerals. This fruit is a wonderful resource of vitamin A, providing us with almost 300 percent of our daily requirement of this nutrient. Besides, butternut squash also contains considerable amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B6, thiamine and folate.

Incorporating a plate of butternut squash in your diet helps you to get lots of minerals that are necessary for sustaining our overall health. This fruit encloses 14 percent potassium and manganese each, 12 percent magnesium and 7 percent calcium. It also contains several other valuable minerals like iron, zinc, phosphorus and the trace element selenium, but they are present in much less amounts.

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While butternut squash is considered to be a fat-free fruit, as it contains below 0.1 gram of fat, this fruit certainly contains a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids (over 30 micrograms) as well as omega-6 fatty acids (more than 22 micrograms). However, both these fatty acids are considered to be essential to sustain the normal functions of our body.

Health benefits

Butternut squash offers several health benefits, as it is composed of several vitamins and poly-phenolic antioxidants. Similar to other fruits of plants belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, butternut squash also contains very few calories - a serving of 100 grams of the fruit supplies us with only 45 calories. In addition, butternut squash does not enclose any cholesterol or saturated fat. On the contrary, this winter squash variety is an excellent source of polynutrients and dietary fiber. Different types of squash, including butternut squash, are among the common fruits that are recommended by dieticians often to control blood cholesterol as well as for incorporation in weight-reduction regimens.

It is worth mentioning here that butternut squash contains more vitamin A compared to pumpkin. As only 100 grams of this fruit provides us with 10630 IU of vitamin A, butternut squash has perhaps the highest concentration of this vitamin among all fruits in the Cucurbitaceae family. A serving of 100 grams of this fruits provides us with roughly 354 percent of our recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A. Being a potent antioxidant, vitamin A is necessary for our body to sustain the integrity of the skin as well as the mucus membranes. In addition, this vitamin is also essential for the optimum health of our eyes and eye-sight. Findings of various studies have hinted that consuming natural foods that are rich in vitamin A content facilitates the body in protecting us from a number of cancer forms, including those of the lungs and oral cavity.

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In addition, butternut squash also encloses abundant amounts of natural poly-phenolic flavonoids such as α and ß-carotenes, lutein and cryptoxanthin-ß. Once inside the body, these natural compounds change to vitamin A and work like this vitamin in protecting the body from various ailments and health conditions.

Butternut squash contains significant amounts of vitamins belonging to the B-complex group, such as vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folates, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and pantothenic acid.

Even the mineral profile of this fruit is as good as that of pumpkin. Butternut squash encloses sufficient amounts of a number of vital minerals such as copper, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and phosphorus.

The seeds of butternut squash are also an excellent natural source of nutritional fiber as well as mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are beneficial for the health of our heart. The seeds also contain substantial amounts of protein, vital minerals and several vitamins necessary for promoting our overall health. In addition, butternut squash seeds also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes our health. In fact, inside the brain, tryptophan changes to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neuro-chemical beneficial for the normal functioning of the brain.

As mentioned earlier butternut squash contains folate and fiber, which contribute to our heart's health. Moreover, folate is also beneficial for combating birth defects. Omega-3 fatty acids enclosed by butternut squash are useful for preventing stroke and heart attack. At the same time, they reduce the chances of developing heart diseases.

In addition, physicians often recommend omega-3 fatty acids to people enduring diabetes, high levels of blood cholesterol and hypertension (high blood pressure). In fact, all obese people should consume butternut squash, as they are susceptible to developing these health conditions.

People enduring heart diseases and/ or hypertension should consume butternut squash as it contains vitamin B6, which is excellent for the health of our heart as well as for regulating blood pressure. Precisely speaking, vitamin B6 not only maintains the blood pressure at normal levels, but also helps to put off heart diseases.

Butternut squash is beneficial for overweight or obese people who are keen to lose weight or maintain an ideal body weight. This fruit is rich in dietary fiber content. While the nutritional fiber present in one cup of butternut squash facilitates digestion, consuming more of this low calorie fruit helps in burning the accumulated fat in your body, thereby helping you to lose surplus weight.

Owing to its considerable potassium content, consumption of butternut squash also helps to alleviate pain, especially stiffness of the joints. In fact, potassium is known to be a natural analgesic. Therefore, when you experience any pain following a workout, eat a banana immediately and consume butternut squash after some time.

Selection and storage

As butternut squash is a variety of winter squash (turban squash, banana squash), it is easily available in most markets across the USA during the period between September and mid-December. Nevertheless, people in the USA can avail butternut squash almost throughout the year because there is a steady supply of this fruit from different countries in South America.

While buying butternut squash you should ensure that you opt for adequately ripened whole fruit, rather than purchasing slices of butternut squash. Purchase the fruits that are mature and have an excellent woody note when you tap them. In addition, the fruits should also feel heavy when you hold them in your hand. Fruits that have stout stem attached to them are considered to be of good quality. Stay away from butternut squash fruits which have a creased surface, cuts or bruises and spots on them.

You can store adequately ripened butternut squash for several weeks, provided they are kept in a cool, moisture-free and properly aerated place. You may store them at room temperature. However, the sliced pieces of squash should always be stored in a refrigerator, where they will keep in good shape for some days.

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