The spaghetti squash is an umbrella term for a number of Cucurbita pepo subsp. pepo cultivars. It is also popularly known as the vegetable spaghetti. These squashes can have various colors, shapes and sizes. The color usually indicates the amount of carotene, with the highest concentration found in the orange fruits. Raw squashes have a solid flesh and a large number of seeds in the center. The name of these squashes is caused by the shape of the flesh after it detaches from the skin during cooking, which looks similar to spaghetti.
Spaghetti squashes have a high nutritional content and are part of the winter squash group. In cooking, it forms ribbons or strings that resemble spaghetti noodles and explain the name. However, it has other alternative names such as gold string melon, fish fin melon, vegetable spaghetti or spaghetti marrow. The pulp can be yellow, orange or cream, even if the skin is typically white or green. The toughest part of the flesh is orange or yellow, with large seeds in the hollow middle.
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The vegetables from the Cucurbitaceae family include other edible varieties like the cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin or acorn squash. Just like them, the spaghetti squash is a vine or shrub with a very fast growth.
Loamy soils with good drainage are the best for this squash variety. It produces distinct male and female flowers, which makes it a monoecious species. Spaghetti squash expands very fast and the fruits start to develop one and a half months after seedling and become ripe after a period between 70 and 85 days. They have a cylindrical shape rounded at both ends and can reach a length or 7-9 inches, with a width of 4-6 inches and a weight of 3 pounds. The outer rind is smooth and very hard, with a yellow or orange color and vertical ribs on its surface.
Like all pumpkins, the color of the flesh depends on the amount of polyphenolic pigments and can be orange, yellow or golden. The center area is hollow and contains a structure similar to a net that supports many white seeds. The seeds are also edible and are very rich in minerals, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and proteins.
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The spaghetti squash and other winter varieties have a very low content of calories. Only 31 calories are found in a serving of 100 grams, without any cholesterol or saturated fats. The fruit is rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and antioxidants. Nutritionists often recommend it in diets that aim to reduce weight or control the overall amount of cholesterol in the blood.
These squashes are a great source of dietary fiber, which is concentrated in the flesh and the strands. Fibers are great for a healthy digestion because they remove dangerous chemicals and toxins from the colon. This prevents serious diseases like cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or diverticulitis and protects the mucosa. At the same time, they balance the level of blood LDL-cholesterol and the assimilation of fats.
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Unlike other pumpkins, winter squashes provide only limited amounts of antioxidants like carotenes or the vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is required for healthy mucosa and skin and is one of the most effective natural antioxidant compounds. It also protects the eyes and helps preserve good vision. It plays many other roles and scientists have discovered that the risk of cancer of the lungs or mouth can be greatly reduced by a diet rich in vitamin A.
The spaghetti squash is superior to the pumpkin as a source of niacin, folates, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) and other vitamins part of the B-complex. It also supplies minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, zinc or copper, but in limited amounts.
Its seeds have a much higher nutritional value than the actual pulp and are a great source of vitamins, minerals, proteins, dietary fiber and mono-unsaturated fatty acids.
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Overall, spaghetti squashes are an excellent choice for a healthy diet. Many serious conditions like cancer, inflammatory arthritis or heart diseases can be prevented by the vitamins and minerals provided by this fruit. They are also rich in fatty acids from the omega-6 group that sustain brain functions. Pregnant women can especially benefit from including spaghetti squashes in their diet, due to the content of folate and potassium. Cells can be protected by the action of the B-vitamins and antioxidants in winter squashes. They are also a great source of beta carotene, which fights atherosclerosis and helps with insulin resistance.
Squashes of this type are recommended for a healthy vision because they supply all three antioxidants related to eye health: lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene. Beta carotene can also balance the level of cholesterol, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, as well as alleviate resistance to insulin.
Another key bioactive compound found in spaghetti squashes is folate. It is particularly important for women during pregnancy, since it reduces the risk of defects at birth and boosts the growth rate of new cells.
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People who have a high blood pressure need a lot of potassium to manage it and spaghetti squashes are ideal for this purpose. Hypertension is easily controlled by consuming a diet based on squashes. At the same time, such a diet will improve blood circulation due to the content of folate, which makes the walls of blood vessels stronger. The spaghetti squash supplies a high dose of potassium, an essential mineral that not only controls blood pressure but can also support nerve functions and muscular coordination.
The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the spaghetti squash play many roles in the body and can reduce the risk of cancers, heart diseases, inflammation or arthritis. They also support overall body health and have been especially linked with promoting proper brain operations.
Recently, scientists have also discovered that spaghetti squashes are surprisingly effective at fighting prostate diseases, for example benign prostate enlargement. This might be caused by the content of manganese, a mineral known to assist with many body processes like metabolism, calcium absorption, and nerve function.
The spaghetti squash is usually widely available and can be found in markets and stores the entire year. You can use your thumb to press the skin to test if it is perfectly firm, choose the fruits with a regular form. Cutting the skin slightly with your nail is another way to test if fruits are ripe. The stem should look like a cork, with a dry and hard texture. If the stem is green, the squash is not ripe enough. Fruits with visible bruises and soft areas should also be avoided, since they are probably not fresh.
The squashes found in markets are usually already dried by the farmers who grow them. This improves the value of the fruits, since curing increases shelf life and allows transport on longer distances.
In order to store it for longer at home, keep the squashes in well-ventilated and cool rooms. In such a location, a cured squash can be stored for three months. However, the fruit doesn't last long after it is cut. Consume it immediately or wrap it in plastic film for 2-3 days of extra storage inside a refrigerator.
The skin of squashes can be dirty, so wash it with cold water in order to remove any dirt. Cutting the fruit in half along the length is the simplest way to remove the seeds found in the middle. You can then place one half inside the oven, in a baking pan. Add about a quarter inch of water and a bit of olive oil on top, the squash is cooked when it becomes soft. Use a fork after it cools down to scrape the flesh and produce the pieces that resemble spaghetti or noodles. The fruit is not the only edible part of the plant, the seeds, leaves and flowers can all be consumed.