Squashes are filling, versatile, and packed with nutrients. But knowing which ones to choose and how to prepare them can seem daunting, as there are literally hundreds of varieties out there! So the best rule of thumb—cook what’s in season. In the fall and early winter, acorn squash is a great bet. Its rich, complex flavor pairs nicely with just about any fall dish, and it’s filled with vitamin A and beta-carotene, which are great for your eyesight. Cooking acorn squash is as simple as cutting it in half, drizzling with olive oil, and throwing in the oven to bring out its yummy sweetness. Delicious, nutritious, and easy—what more could you ask for?
As its name suggests, the shape of an acorn squash is vaguely reminiscent of an acorn, though quite a bit bigger! The most common varieties are small and roundish, about six inches in diameter. The skin is typically dark green with deep ridges, or “ribs.” Sometimes the skin has some orange blushing.
At the farmers’ market, less common varieties can be found. Some examples are gold acorn squash (small and orange), white acorn squash, and baby acorn squash (light green and small enough to fit in your palm).
Acorn squash has a rich flavor combination: nutty, sweet, and peppery.
Acorn squash is readily available in major supermarkets, specialty stores, and farmers’ markets.
Peak season for acorn squash is fall to early winter—October through December—in both the US and Europe.
Choose acorn squash that feels firm and heavy for its size. Slight orange blushes on a green acorn squash are normal, but other varieties should be rather uniform in color.
Avoid squashes with dull or wrinkled skin, or soft spots, as those indicate it is overripe. Also avoid squash that feels “empty”—this means it has dried out.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Acorn squash is not specifically highlighted on any list, but winter squash ranks #25 on the full EWG list, a little closer to the “Clean Fifteen” than the “Dirty Dozen” list, meaning the conventionally grown versions are generally considered safe.
Store in a cool, well-ventilated place away from sunlight for up to two months. Do not refrigerate unwashed, uncut squash.
Cut acorn squash can be kept in a sealed, airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Alternately, cook or puree acorn squash and keep in the freezer for up to a few months.
Rinse acorn squash under cool running water. This is a hard-skinned squash, so you’ll need a butcher knife or cleaver to cut it in half. Most commonly, acorn squash is cooked with the skin on. But it is also acceptable to peel it. Scoop out the seeds and place, cut side down, on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375˚F for 45 to 60 minutes or until fork-tender.
Once cooked, either fill the halves with meats, grains, and vegetables, or slice along the ribs, toss with olive oil and desired spices, and eat as a side dish or tossed in a salad.
You can also roast the seeds. Simply roast them the same way as pumpkin seeds.
Far more than protecting the body from the common cold, this immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure, reducing heart disease risk.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, plays an active role in metabolizing carbohydrates into a useable form of energy. B1 also contributes toward proper nerve function and acts as a coenzyme to convert ketones into other coenzymes necessary for cell metabolism.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.
Like many varieties of hard-skinned winter squash, acorn squash is rich in beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a building block of vitamin A, which is especially important for eye, skin, and immune health.
Because of its rich flavor, acorn squash is perfect to use in healthy cooking methods. Blander foods often lead to unhealthy cooking methods like frying, drenching in butter, or loading with cheeses. But because acorn squash already has such a rich, complex flavor, simpler and healthier cooking methods like steaming and roasting yield great flavor without the guilt.
- The acorn squash, also called Danish squash, dates back to 4,000 BC.
- “Squash” originates from askutasquash, a Native American word that means “eaten raw or uncooked.”
- There are many types of acorn squash, including gold, green, white, and baby acorn. The baby acorn is entirely edible, including the skin and tiny seeds.