From acorn to turban, winter squash are some of the most delicious and versatile ingredients of the season. Unlike summer squash, these are harvested in autumn when they are hard and ripe, and most varieties can be stored and enjoyed for use through the winter.
Here's a guide to 11 common varieties of winter squash, and what you need to know about each.
- What it looks like: Acorn squash is small in size, typically weighing between one and two pounds, with orange-yellow flesh and thick, dark green and orange skin.
- Buying and storing: Choose acorn squash that have a firm exterior, are free from soft spots and blemishes, and feel heavy for their size. Store them in a cool, dry place and they will keep for at least one month.
- Flavor: Acorn squash has a mild, subtly sweet and nutty flavor. This skin is also edible.
- How to use it: Like most varieties of winter squash, acorn squash is really versatile. It can be baked, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or even cooked in the microwave.
2. Banana Squash
- What it looks like: This large, elongated squash can grow two to three feet in length and weigh as much as 40 pounds. It has smooth orange, pink, or blue skin and firm, brilliant orange flesh.
- Buying and storing: Banana squash is sold whole, and can also be found in more manageable pre-cut portions with the seeds removed.
- Flavor: When cooked, banana squash has a rich, sweet, earthy taste.
- How to use it: Use banana squash in place of other varieties, like butternut or kabocha. It's great for roasting and in soups and stews.
- What it looks like: Buttercup squash is squat and round with an inedible dark green rind that has green-gray striations. It has firm, dense, vibrant orange flesh. It resembles kabocha squash, though is distinguished by a round ridge on its bottom.
- Buying and storing: Choose a squash that's heavy for its size, with even coloring. Avoid squashes with blemishes, soft spots, or dull skin. Buttercup squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months.
- Flavor: Buttercup squash has a sweet, creamy flavor and is considered sweeter than other winter squash varieties.
- How to use it: The flesh tends to be dry, so steaming and baking are the best methods for cooking this squash. And its firm texture makes it ideal for a curry.
4. Butternut Squash
- What it looks like: This pear-shaped squash has a smooth, cream-colored exterior with bright orange flesh and comparatively few seeds.
- Buying and storing: Look for squash that's firm, heavy for its size, and free from cracks and soft spots.
- Flavor: This is the sweetest variety of winter squash.
- How to use it: Butternut squash is extremely versatile. It's perfect for roasting and sautéing, or making a smooth purée or soup.
- What it looks like: Also known as sweet potato squash, this small cylindrical squash has thin cream- to yellow-colored skin with green stripes, and orange-yellow flesh. Delicatas are smaller than most winter squash, so they're quite easy to prepare and cook.
- Buying and storing: Choose squash that are heavy for their size, and free from blemishes and soft spots.
- Flavor: Delicata has creamy flesh with a mild flavor akin to sweet potatoes.
- How to use it: The skin on this small squash is edible, so don't worry about cutting it off. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then you can either bake it as is, or cut it into slices which can be roasted, sautéed, or steamed. Delicata squash is also ideal for stuffing.
6. Hubbard Squash
- What it looks like: Hubbard squash is one of the largest varieties of winter squash. It has a hard, firm exterior that can range in color from deep green to gray or blue.
- Buying and storing: Look for a squash that's hard and firm, heavy for its size, and free from soft spots. You'll find whole hubbard squash at farm stands and farmers markets, though because of its size, it's generally sold pre-cut and seeded in grocery stores.
- Flavor: Hubbard squash has a rich, sweet pumpkin flavor.
- How to use it: While the hard exterior is generally discarded, the sweet orange flesh can be substituted for any other variety of winter squash. It's ideal for both cooking and baking, and is especially great for making pie.
- What it looks like: Kabocha squash is squat and round, and similar in size and shape to buttercup squash, though the base points out. It has a dull finish with dark green skin that sometimes has small lumps, and bright yellow-orange flesh.
- Buying and storing: Look for a squash with dull coloring that's firm and heavy for its size, and free from soft spots. Store it in a cool, dry place for up to one month.
- Flavor: Kabocha squash is remarkably sweet with a nice nutty flavor, and texture that's similar to a blend of sweet potato and pumpkin.
- How to use it: Kabocha squash is very versatile and can be used as a substitute for any other winter squash. It can be roasted or steamed, added to soup, or used for a pie filling.
- What it looks like: Pumpkins sussed for cooking and baking are smaller than the field pumpkins used for decoration. They're round with a firm exterior that can range in color from pale to bright reddish-orange, with vibrant orange flesh.
- Buying and storing: For the best flavor and texture, choose pumpkins grown specifically for eating rather than carving, such as sugar pumpkins, sweet pumpkins, cheese pumpkins, and different heirloom varieties.
- Flavor: Large field pumpkins — ones you'd put on your front porch — are best left for decoration since they're dry and flavorless. Sugar pumpkins, and like varieties, have a sweet, earthy taste.
- How to use it: You can use smaller pumpkins just as you would other varieties of winter squash — bake, roast, or purée them. Pumpkin is ideal for soup, curries, and of course, pies!
- What it looks like: Spaghetti squash has a cylindrical shape with a firm exterior that ranges in color from pale cream to bright yellow. When you cook the squash, the moist flesh develops strands that resemble spaghetti.
- Buying and storing: Look for spaghetti squash with a firm outer shell, that's heavy for its size, and free from soft spots. Store it in a cool, dry place for up to one month.
- Flavor: No, spaghetti squash doesn't actually taste like spaghetti. It has a tender, chewy, fragile texture, and a very mild flavor. Unlike other winter squash varieties, it lacks sweetness.
- How to use it: Roast or steam it, then scrape out the strands. Top with marinara, pesto, or mix in other veggies, and eat it as you would spaghetti.
10. Sweet Dumpling Squash
- What it looks like: This small yellow squash, with bright orange to dark green striations, may be the cutest of the bunch.
- Buying and storing: Look for squash with deep coloring, with a smooth rind that's free from soft spots, blemishes, or cracks. Stored in a cool, dry area, away from sunlight, this squash can last for up to three months.
- Flavor: The flesh is starchy and sweet, with a flavor that's reminiscent of corn.
- How to use it: The small, single-serving size of this squash makes it ideal for stuffing and roasting.
Sweet Dumpling Squash Recipes
11. Turban Squash
- What it looks like: This large, decorative squash has an irregular turban shape with a dull-looking, bumpy exterior that can range in color from mottled green to orange and yellow.
- Buying and storing: Like other winter squash, choose one that feels heavy for its size and free from soft spots.
- Flavor: This large squash has a very mild, nutty flavor.
- How to use it: Turban squash is most often used as a decoration, though
you can use it in recipes in just about any way you use butternut, acorn, or other winter squash. Hollowed out, it makes a beautiful soup tureen.
Updated from a post originally published in October 2011.
(Image credits: mikecphoto/Shutterstock; Emma Christensen; Emily Han; Christine Gallary)