Summer Squash 101

squash of some kind

Summer squash is probably the most versatile vegetable that you’ll find on the market. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and in different shades of green and yellow. It can be served raw with a selection of dips, used as a main ingredient in soups, or steamed and added to a sizzling vegetable dish. A dash of honey brings out the squash’s enjoyable sweet flavor. And what’s more, the many nutritional benefits offered by squash make this vegetable an exceptional summer delight.

Identification

The most common summer squash groups harvested throughout the year are zucchini, straightneck, crookneck, and scallop squash.

Zucchinis bear a resemblance to cucumbers, due to their dark green skin and elongated shape. Unlike cucumbers, however, zucchinis come with a prickly stem. Sometimes a zucchini’s skin contains light-colored speckles. Its flesh is cream-colored and contains edible seeds.

Both straightneck and crookneck squash are usually bulb-shaped and have bright yellow skins. Straightneck squash have a slightly elongated shape, while their skin is very smooth. On the other hand, crookneck squash have an arched neck at the top and their skin is generally bumpy.

Meanwhile, the scallop or pattypan squash is very identifiable. This type of squash has a round, shallow shape, and its edges are scalloped. The pattypan squash comes in a variety of green and yellow shades, but white scallop squash is also common. The skin of some pattypan squash is green in the center where the stem is, while the rest of the squash is bright yellow.

Taste

Summer squash have crunchy, pale, cream-colored flesh. Due to their high water content (95 percent), unseasoned squash taste rather bland, with only a faint hint of sweetness. To boost the flavor of the squash, sprinkle them with salt and pepper prior to cooking. You can also compensate for the vegetable’s mild taste by pairing it with stronger flavors, such as cheese, curry, lemon, and garlic.

Availability

Summer squash are widely available in most supermarkets and food stores across the US.

Season

Summer squash are available throughout the year, but they are particularly abundant during the summer months.

Selection

The signs of a fresh summer squash include firm stems and bright skins. Choose squash which have deeply colored, shiny skin that is free of blemishes or bruises.

Avoid choosing squash that look overly big, as these tend to be bitter. If the squash is not firm enough, then the flesh is likely to be spongy.

Organic Benefits

When deciding to purchase organic or non-organic produce, consider the intensity of pesticide residue in a particular fruit or vegetable to reduce your exposure to pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, plants, and fungi during their growth and are potentially dangerous to people. Both the United States and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk.

Every year the Environmental Working Group—an American environmental organization that analyzes farming and agricultural issues—publishes the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to inform consumers of the most and least pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables.

The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen is a list that highlights the twelve most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables that contain mild pesticide contamination fall under the Clean Fifteen category. The data is obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

Summer squash is currently included in the Dirty Dozen list. The skin of summer squash is rich in antioxidants, but exposure to pesticides and other chemicals can cause contamination. Try to purchase organic summer squash to get the optimal health benefits of the skin’s antioxidants.

The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.  

Storage

Place summer squash in a plastic bag, wrapping it tightly to limit its exposure to air. Store it in the refrigerator so that it retains its nutrients and vitamins. It is important not to wash summer squash before storing it in the fridge as moisture will cause it to spoil faster. Keep it in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.

The best way to freeze summer squash is to wash and cut the vegetable into thin slices (1/2 to 1 inch). Submerge the slices in boiling water for approximately 3 minutes. Rinse them in cold water and let them drain. Store the slices in airtight containers and freeze. Frozen summer squash will last up to a year.

The seeds should be thoroughly rinsed and left to dry next to a window sill. The drying time of the seeds depends on the amount of sunlight that they are exposed to. Cut one of the seeds in half to check for dryness. If it snaps quickly and crisply, it means the seeds are dry. Put the seeds in a glass jar or a freezer bag, adding a tablespoon of rice to absorb moisture. The seeds can be either refrigerated or stored in the freezer.

Preparation

Rinse summer squash under cool running water and leave to drain. Squash are cubed, sliced, cut in half, and even grated. It’s important to keep the skin intact when preparing or cooking squash, as this is where most of the vegetable’s nutrients are found.

You can get very creative with all the varieties of summer squash. They can be baked, sautéed, grilled, or boiled. For sweeter-tasting squash, add a bit of brown sugar or honey.

Nutrition Summary

Vitamin C

Immune system supporter.

Vitamin C can help protect against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling. It’s needed to form collagen, which helps maintain skin, teeth, gums, tendons, and ligaments. It helps heal wounds and fight cancerous cells. It is required to form neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain, and helps minimize damage from toxins.

Flavonoids

Protect cells from damage.

Help protect blood vessels and keep them strong. Help prevent inflammation throughout the body. Enhance the impact of vitamin C. Responsible for plant colors.

Beta-Carotene

Healthy vision.

Converts into vitamin A, and is needed for healthy bones and teeth as well as vision. Also has antioxidant properties to help protect cells from damage.

Antioxidants

Help guard cells against effects of free radicals.

Free radicals are molecules that can be produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental factors (e.g., smoking, radiation). Protecting against free radicals can protect against cell damage that may play a role in heart disease and cancer.

Magnesium

Biochemical reactions, bone development.

Magnesium is needed for transmitting nerve impulses, converting food into energy, regulating body temperature, and maintaining your immune system. It plays a role in calcium absorption, too.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Summer squash are rich in antioxidants, many of which are found in the vegetable’s skin and seeds. These antioxidants protect the eyes against cataracts and macular degeneration. Nutrients found in the skin of squash include lutein, zeoxanthin, and beta-carotene, all containing anti-inflammatory properties. Together with the omega-3 fatty acids concentrated in the seeds of squash, these anti-inflammatory nutrients build a protective wall against cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases.
Studies have shown that the vitamin C provided by summer squash, coupled with the vegetable’s large amounts of flavonoids, help regulate glucose levels in the blood. Eating summer squash can thus lower the risk of developing diabetes.

The high levels of magnesium present in summer squash help to regulate blood-sugar levels and boost heart health. Magnesium also reduces high blood pressure and lowers the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Little Known Facts
  1. Squash earned its name from the Narragansett Native American word askutasquash, which means “eaten raw.”
  2. 2. The earliest cultivation of squash dates back to at least 8,000 BC, and it is believed to have originated in central Mexico.
  3. The flesh of summer squash has a high water content, so consuming this vegetable during the hot summer serves as a refreshing snack and keeps you hydrated.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.