The turban squash is a variety of winter squash that is a cultivar or Cucurbita maxima and a close relative of the spaghetti squash and buttercup squash. Due to its shape, it has alternative names like French Turban or Turk's Turban and is a very old squash species, attested before the year 1820. It has various colors like white, green or orange and usually reaches a mature weight of 6 pounds. It is a very popular ornamental gourd but can also be consumed as a vegetable. The taste resembles the one of other Cucurbita maxima varieties but there are contrasting opinions about it. While some people describe it as bland and coarse, others claim it resembles hazelnuts. The taste has been constantly improved through breeding starting in the nineteenth century, when it was said to be the most beautiful of all squashes but also the one with the worst taste.
With an average weight of five pounds, the turban squash can grow pretty large in size, with a diameter between 25 and 38 cm. It tends to have an irregular rounded shape. The blossom end turns into a cap that looks like an oriental turban, which gathers in the center and ends with a base with a bulbous appearance. A spectacular feature of the turban squash is the mixture of colors on the turban part, with stripes of yellow, green, orange or red. The flesh itself has an orange color, with a firm and fine texture. The center is hollow, with porous pulp and flat seeds with a creamy color. Turban squashes develop a texture similar to flour when cooked, while the taste can be neutral or sweet. While it is usually a winter squash, this cultivar is also available during the summer.
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From a scientific point of view, the turban squash is classified as a variety of Cucurbita maxima. It is related to gourds and pumpkins and can be found on vines that reach a length of 2 to 3 meters, just like other members of the extended Cucurbitaceae family. Several cultivars of winter squashes are grouped under the generic name of turban squash. They all have in common a specific shape that develops in the blossom part and looks similar to a turban or acorn. Due to the intriguing shape, special colors and attractive pattern, the turban squash is mainly used as an ornament.
In cooking, turban squashes are best prepared through steaming, baking or roasting. They are quite difficult to cut properly, due to the large size and special shape that tends to be very irregular. The easiest way to cut them is to remove the part that looks like an acorn first. The remaining base and turban can then be sliced into cubes. The skin is not edible and has to be removed at some point, but you can cook the squash with it and discard it later. The squash is a useful addition as a puree in stews and soups, as well as a thickening agent for sauces. Whole pieces can be consumed as a side dish with other vegetables or meats. Cubes can serve as ingredients in green salads, quinoa salads, chili or stir-fried dishes.
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The turban squash can be combined in recipes with many other ingredients such as celery, carrots, mushrooms, onions, garlic, parsley, cilantro, nutmeg, cardamom, brown sugar, butter, cream, melting and hard cheeses, toasted nuts, tahini dressing, sausage, ground beef, bacon, roasted chicken, pear, apple, chard, corn or kale. If stored in a dry place away from heat, it lasts for several weeks. It usually starts rotting at the cap, which is the most sensitive part and must be especially protected for longer storage. After cutting the squash, you can keep the pieces for about one week wrapped in plastic inside the refrigerator.
The French encyclopedia Le Bon Jardinier published in 1818 was the first work to mention the turban squash. The French Turban and other cultivars with a turban shape were actually known before 1818 but they were used almost exclusively for ornamental purposes, due to the watery flesh and bad taste. At the start of the nineteenth century, the American Turban was developed as a cultivar with a pleasant taste and good texture, as a cross between the French Turban, the hubbard, acorn, and autumnal marrow squashes. Turban cultivars are grown today in Europe, Asia, the USA and Australia, where they are readily available in shops and markets.
Due to the very high percentage of water, the turban squash includes only a limited amount of calories so it is useful in weight loss diets. However, it provides major benefits in the treatment of digestive issues, high blood pressure and even cancer, due to the rich amount of potassium in its composition. It is also a good source for the powerful antioxidant vitamin A.
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Women should consume turban squashes while they are pregnant or nursing because it provides a lot of folate, a compound that reduces the risk of birth defects, such as a malformed neural tube. No less than 15 percent of the daily required amount of folate can be sourced from a single cup of squash. This essential nutrient also protects blood vessels, shielding them from toxins that can damage their structure. Scientists have also discovered that the risk of colon cancer can be reduced with a diet rich in folate.
Squashes are rich in compounds that kill bacteria, viruses or fungi. Including turban squashes in your daily menu can provide an overall boost for your immune system, which helps treat a wide range of conditions. It can also eliminate various toxins from the body. Squash seeds are particularly rich in healthy bioactive compounds that are able to protect the body from harm.
The turban squash is a rich source of compounds that improve the immune response, such as antioxidants, vitamin C or the essential mineral magnesium. As a result, the overall antioxidant capability of the body is increased, allowing it to counter the harmful effect of free radicals that can damage cells.
Consuming squashes is also recommended for a healthy heart. They are a good source for both magnesium and potassium, the two key minerals needed for a proper protection of the cardiovascular system. They can also increase the amount of oxygen that reaches internal organs.
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Another benefit is the strong anti-inflammatory effect. It includes several compounds that reduce inflammation; the most effective of these is the fatty acid omega-3. Other anti-inflammatory nutrients found in squashes are beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
The content of phenolic compounds such as carotenes makes the turban squash a very useful food for skin health that can make it look younger and rejuvenated. This is accomplished through the strong antioxidant properties, which boost the skin repair process and restore its natural glow. Antioxidant compounds can neutralize the free radicals that cause skin aging, spots, blemishes or wrinkles.
A diet that includes turban squashes is also good for the body’s bone structure. This is due to a proper mix of minerals essential for bone density, for example magnesium, potassium, manganese or copper. These make human bones more durable and allow them to maintain their strength as we age, reducing the risk of conditions like osteoporosis.
Vitamins that are part of the B complex are critical to all functions of the body’s metabolism, for example tissue growth and repair, the production of enzymes, energy metabolism or hormonal balance. Turban squashes supply very high doses of all of these essential vitamins. They are particularly rich in folate, which reduces the risk of neural tube defects in infants, with a single serving supplying around 10% of the daily recommended amount.
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Foods with a high content of carbohydrates are very dangerous for people who suffer from diabetes, since they can trigger big spikes in the level of blood sugar. The carbohydrates found in turban squashes are polysaccharides like pectin and other special types. Diabetic patients can safely consume a moderate amount of squash, which will even improve their condition since these carbohydrates can actually balance insulin production and reduce inflammation.
Every squash cultivar includes cucurbitacins, which are unique compounds that play a role in the defence mechanism of these plants. They are also found in melons and foods prepared from these varieties. The molecules have an unpleasant taste that prevents some animals from consuming the fruit. However, scientists have found them to be very effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents. They can reduce the general level of oxidative stress and treat conditions like arthritis.
Like most other fruits and vegetables, squashes provide a significant amount of dietary fibers, with a single cup supplying about one fifth of the daily required amount. Fibers can protect the heart by eliminating cholesterol deposits from blood vessels. Conditions caused by high levels of cholesterol, such as atherosclerosis or coronary conditions, can also be prevented by the omega-3 fatty acids in the squash, which reduce the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase the one of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Turban squashes are an excellent choice for a healthy digestion because they provide large amounts of both dietary fibers and quality natural starch. Fibers have the ability to regulate intestinal transit by bulking up the stool, which stimulates normal bowel movements. They prevent many types of diseases, from lethal ones like colorectal cancer to normal issues such as cramps, constipation, bloating or ulcers.
The turban squash is especially rich in vitamin A, with no less than 60% of the daily recommended amount found in a single cup. This makes it a great food for the eyes, because it also supplies other carotenoids that support vision. Most of them are strong antioxidants that protect the retina from oxidation, which slows down the progress of cataract and delays macular degeneration.
Scientists have also investigated the squash as a potential weapon against cancer; since it is so rich in powerful antioxidant compounds. It has been tested in clinical trials on patients suffering from breast or prostate cancers. The results have proven that a diet based on winter squashes can reduce both the formation of tumours and their expansion through the body.
Consuming turban squashes can help you be more relaxed and sleep better, due to the high content of magnesium and vitamins that promote sleep by increasing the production of certain neurotransmitters. It can be very useful for people with insomnia, who only have to consume a portion of squash just before going to bed, in order to benefit from quality rest.