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All about “Squash”, a vegetable rich in fiber

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Native to America, squash has been cultivated for centuries by indigenous peoples. Depending on the variety, there are winter and summer squash, so you can taste this vegetable all year round. It is generally eaten in savory dishes but it also goes well with sweet.

Characteristics of the squash:

  • Low in calories;
  • Source of vitamin A;
  • Rich in antioxidants;
  • Rich in fiber;
  • Stimulates intestinal transit.

What is squash?

Squash identity card

  • Type: Vegetable;
  • Family: Cucurbits;
  • Origin: America;
  • Season: Winter or summer;
  • Color: Orange to white;
  • Flavor: Sweet.

Characteristics of the squash

Squash is a vegetable. Vegetables grow on the ground under large green leaves.

Word from the nutritionist

One serving corresponds to approximately 200g of squash.

Nutritional values

For 100g of raw winter squash:

Nutrients                                                             Quantities                                                            
Protein 1 g
Fat 0.1g
Carbohydrates 10.23 g
Water 86.41 g
Fibers 1.46 g
Vitamin A 4226 µg
Vitamin C 21 mg
Vitamin B2 0.02 mg
Vitamin B6 0.15 mg
Iron 0.7 mg
Copper 0.07 mg


15 benefits of squash: why eat it?

  1. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals. These are very reactive molecules which are implicated in the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other diseases linked to aging. Although the edible part of the squash contains several antioxidant compounds, researchers have observed that the seeds have an even higher antioxidant activity than the flesh.
  2. The squash contains a large amount of beta-carotene, which is 3,025 μg per 125 ml (1/2 cup). For comparison, an average carrot contains 4,157 μg. In addition to being a source of vitamin A for the body, beta-carotene also has antioxidant power and could improve certain functions of the immune system. However, with regard to cancer prevention, certain nuances must be made. Indeed, several epidemiological studies have observed an association between the consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene and a reduced risk of certain cancers, but the effect of beta-carotene supplements has not always brought beneficial results. It remains wise to favor foods containing beta-carotene rather than supplements,

  3. The squash contains a good amount of lutein and zeaxanthin, two other antioxidant compounds from the carotenoid family. 1/2 cup (125 ml) cooked squash contains 1,533 μg of lutein and zeaxanthin. For comparison, 250 ml (1 cup) of raw spinach, a vegetable considered to be very rich in these carotenoids, contains 3,867 μg. Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the macula and retina of the eye, protecting it from oxidative stress that could cause damage. Moreover, data from a review of the scientific literature indicate that a regular intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, two eye diseases. In addition, we are starting to think that these compounds could help prevent certain cancers, especially those of the breast and lung, and participate in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Note, however, that studies on the cardiovascular level are still limited and sometimes contradictory.
  4. The squash contains cucurbitacins. This family of compounds includes several different molecules, some of which are found in squash. In particular, researchers have studied in vitro the properties of cucurbitacins in a squash of the Cucurbita andreana variety (dark green squash with yellow stripes) on human cancer cells. Several of these compounds have reduced the growth of cancer cells, particularly cucurbitacin B. In addition, a review of the scientific literature on the large family of cucurbitacins points out that cucurbitacin B could also protect liver cells against certain toxic compounds, and also has anti-inflammatory effects. Since these studies are essentially in vitro, these results cannot currently be applied to humans,
  5. Some studies in animals and in people with type 2 diabetes indicate that the squash juice of the variety Cucurbita ficifolia (also called squash of Siam) would have a hypoglycemic effect, that is to say that it would lead to a decrease blood glucose. This property could favor better control of diabetes. However, the mechanism of action that can explain this effect is not yet known. The researchers also point out that the results in humans are still preliminary and that further studies will have to be carried out.
  6. Winter squash is an excellent source of vitamin A. Retinol is one of the active forms of vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is one of the most versatile vitamins, working together for several body functions. Among other things, it contributes to the growth of bones and teeth, keeps the skin healthy and protects against infections. In addition, it plays an antioxidant role and promotes good vision, especially in the dark.
  7. Winter squash is a source of iron for men, their needs being different from those of women. Each body cell contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It should be noted that the iron contained in food of vegetable origin is less absorbed by the organism than the iron contained in food of animal origin. However, the absorption of iron from plants is favored when consumed with certain nutrients, such as vitamin C.
  8. Winter squash is a source of manganese. Manganese acts as a cofactor for several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also participates in the prevention of damage caused by free radicals.
  9. Winter squash is a source of copper. As a constituent of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (protein used for the structure and repair of tissues) in the body. Several copper-containing enzymes also help the body’s defense against free radicals.
  10. Winter squash is a source of vitamin B2. This vitamin is also known as riboflavin. Like vitamin B1, it plays a role in the energy metabolism of all cells. In addition, it contributes to tissue growth and repair, hormone production and the formation of red blood cells.
  11. Winter squash is a source of pantothenic acid. Also called vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is part of a key coenzyme that allows us to adequately use the energy present in the food we eat. It also participates in several stages of the synthesis (manufacture) of steroid hormones, neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses) and hemoglobin.
  12. Winter squash is a source of vitamin B6. Also called pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is part of coenzymes that participate in the metabolism of proteins and fatty acids as well as in the synthesis (manufacture) of neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It also contributes to the production of red blood cells and allows them to transport more oxygen. Pyridoxine is also necessary for the transformation of glycogen into glucose and it contributes to the proper functioning of the immune system. Finally, this vitamin plays a role in the formation of certain components of nerve cells and in the modulation of hormone receptors.
  13. Winter squash is a source of folate. Folate (vitamin B9) is involved in the production of all cells in the body, including red blood cells. This vitamin plays an essential role in the production of genetic material (DNA, RNA), in the functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, as well as in the healing of wounds and wounds. As it is necessary for the production of new cells, adequate consumption is essential during periods of growth and for the development of the fetus.
  14. Winter squash is a source of vitamin C. The role that vitamin C plays in the body goes beyond its antioxidant properties; it also contributes to the health of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums. In addition, it protects against infections, promotes the absorption of iron from plants and accelerates healing.
  15. Winter squash is a source of vitamin K for women, with different needs for men and women. Vitamin K is necessary for the synthesis (manufacture) of proteins which collaborate in the coagulation of the blood (as much in the stimulation as in the inhibition of the blood coagulation). It also plays a role in bone formation. In addition to being found in food, vitamin K is manufactured by bacteria present in the intestine, hence the rarity of deficiencies in this vitamin.

How to choose your squash

From  butternut  to  buttercup  via chesnut, finding your way among squash presents real difficulties, in particular because a species sometimes includes hundreds of varieties or cultivars. And because the same fruit sometimes has several names – acorn squash, alias zucchini, alias acorn squash, for example.

To get an idea of ​​this complexity, let us know that, in the single species Cucurbita pepo, we find:

  • all varieties belonging to the acorn type: Des Moines, Ebony, Golden, Table King, etc .;
  • all varieties belonging to the twisted neck type (or torticollis squash): Dwarf Summer, Early Summer Golden, Early Summer White, etc .;
  • all varieties of small decorative squashes with hard, rough or warty bark (but not large varieties with smooth bark);
  • all varieties belonging to the marrow type (close to zucchini): Green Bush Improved, Long White, True & Tender, etc .;
  • many other varieties do not necessarily form one or more types, various in shape and color, such as certain pumpkins and spaghetti squashes, as well as several summer squashes.

However, in the majority of recipes, you can – luckily! – easily replace one type of squash with another.

The different varieties

There are many varieties of squash; the pumpkin is one of them. Some of them are so-called “summer” squash, like zucchini, picked before they are fully ripe and with tender and edible skin. “Winter” squashes, like butternut and acorn squash, are picked mature: their skin is hard and inedible, but they keep longer.

Keep well

Be careful not to keep the whole squash in the refrigerator, as it will deteriorate quickly in an environment that is too humid for it.

At room temperature: one to three months.
In the cellar, in the cellar or in another cool place (10 to 12 ºC): three to six months depending on the variety.
In the freezer: cooked, it freezes well and can be stored for about a year in airtight bags or containers.

Preparation of the squash

How to cook it? How to match it?

Bake medium sized squash in the oven after piercing it in various places with a fork to prevent it from bursting when cooked. Cook 1 ½ to 2 hours at 160 ° C (325 ° F). Check the doneness by pressing lightly on the bark. If it yields under pressure, the squash is ready.

Soups, pies, stews, couscous, curry, etc. : the recipes for preparing pumpkin and pumpkin flesh are suitable for squash, and vice versa.

To cook a large squash, peel it, cut the flesh into cubes and boil them until they are tender. If the bark is too tough, cut the squash into sections and place in a baking dish, skin side down, and bake at 180 ° C (350 ° F) for 30 minutes (more if necessary). When the flesh is tender (check by pricking with a fork), remove from the oven and let cool. With a spoon, separate the flesh from the skin and pound or pass it through a blender or food processor.

  • The flesh of cooked spaghetti squash has the particularity of breaking up under the fork into long filaments which, precisely, look like spaghetti. We serve this flesh with a tomato or cream sauce. It can also be simply seasoned with butter, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese, parsley and basil.
  • For the soups, cook the squash pieces in a chicken or vegetable broth, with onion (but you can also include other vegetables, roots or greens). Then go to the blender, add a seasoning that has body – pesto, for example – and a little yogurt.
  • Pieces of squash are part of the vegetables that the Japanese fry in tempura, one of their most popular dishes in the West
  • Add the baked flesh to a bread, cake or pancake batter.
  • Among the spices, parsley, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, basil and cloves go perfectly with this vegetable.

Stuffed squash

Choose a small round squash from which we will remove a “hat”. Remove the seeds and stringy parts.

Stuff the fruit with a mixture of vegetables, briefly returned to the pan, cover with cheese and bake for about 30 minutes.

Fill with a custard mixture, with coconut milk if desired, and bake for about 20 minutes in the oven, in a hollow dish filled with water until halfway up the squash.

Other uses

  • To make squash chips, cut the raw flesh into thin slices and dip them in a basin of hot oil.
  • In Asian markets, there are dried squash shavings that are added as a garnish to a dish of sautéed vegetables or in sushi, and whose crunchy texture is appreciated.
  • During summer and autumn, the flowers are enjoyed in salads, in soups and stews. But the ultimate is when they are stuffed or breaded, then fried.
  • The seeds are eaten roasted and salted, like those of the pumpkin. Because they are very nutritious, they can also be ground to add to sauces.

History of the squash

The term “courge” appeared in 1390 in the French language in the form of “cohourge”. It is an alteration that is hard to explain from the old French  cohourde , or  courde , borrowed from the Latin  cucurbita . “Gourd” has the same etymological origin, the two words designating relatively close plants. Like squash and gourds, cucumbers and melons also belong to the cucurbit family.

Squash and conquistadors

In the 19th century, botanists were convinced that the Amerindians were not developed enough to successfully domesticate plants such as squash, beans and corn, and had therefore hypothesized that, in remote times, a people European had arrived we do not know how in America and had selected the varieties that the Spanish would discover later, during the conquest in the 15th century. These people would then have mysteriously disappeared without anyone hearing about them again …

All species of the genus Cucurbita are native to Mexico, Central America and South America. According to the vestiges which one found in the ruins of old dwellings, their domestication would date from 5,000 to 15,000 years according to the species, and would have occurred independently in several places. Squash is therefore one of the first plants to be cultivated in the world. But the flesh of the wild fruit – very bitter, even toxic – was hardly consumed, except in case of necessity and after having boiled it in several waters. On the other hand, its seeds were a rich source of nutrients for the Amerindians, while the dried fruit was used to make various containers, musical instruments and ritual objects that were sometimes richly decorated.

Introduced in Europe, then in the rest of the world with the Spanish conquerors, the squash has been adopted in many cultures. The selection work that the Amerindians carried out for millennia to obtain larger fruits with edible flesh was continued, giving birth, for the five cultivated species, to hundreds of varieties, presenting a very great diversity of forms, of color and of dimensions, and of which several are known and cultivated only locally.

Mostly appreciated in the West for its fruits, seeds and to a lesser extent for its edible flowers, squash knows other uses elsewhere in the world: young shoots, the tips of the stems and the leaves are used as a green vegetable for humans, while the fruits of certain varieties, which can weigh more than 100 kilos, are fed to livestock. In Mexico, the fruit is mixed with corn and made into a slightly alcoholic drink.

For further

Organic gardening

All varieties of squash are sensitive to cold. It is therefore necessary to put them in the garden after the last frosts of spring. Sow directly in the ground or in containers indoors three or four weeks before transplanting.

Saving space

You can, in the Asian way, climb varieties with creeping stems on a wooden lattice structure. Make sure to attach the fruits to the structure to prevent them from breaking and falling under the weight.

Sow or transplant the varieties with creeping stems in buds spaced 1.5 m to 2 m, with four or five seeds (or three plants) per bud, and in rows spaced 2.5 m to 3 m . The buds will have been fattened with good manure or compost, preferably the previous fall. When the plants are well established, thin out two or three plants per bud. The buds of non-creeping varieties will be spaced 1 m apart and the rows 1.5 m apart.

Irrigate in the event of drought, particularly at the start of the season when the plants are established.

Against the striped beetle, protect with a fine mesh fabric, which will be removed at the time of flowering, plants needing bees for their pollination. At this point, they should be able to resist insect attack. However, in case of serious infestation, especially at the time of flowering and ripening of the fruit, treat with rotenone.

Harvest the fruit with its tail (at least 2.5 cm long) to minimize the risk of rot during storage. Keep only very heavy fruits whose bark is without major defect and of a beautiful brilliant color. The fruits of the majority of varieties will benefit, before storage or consumption, from an aging period of 10 to 20 days in a room whose temperature will be around 21 ° C.

Ecology and environment

In Tonga, a state of Polynesia located to the east of the Fiji islands, we have started for twenty years to cultivate large-scale squash, intended for the very lucrative Japanese market. Composed of 160 islands and islets, this small country had until then a subsistence agriculture, based on ancestral practices little damaging for the environment and human health. However, the modernization of these practices is completely changing the situation.

By turning to export markets rather than domestic trade, farmers must meet quality and productivity criteria that inevitably lead to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Consequently, the pollution caused by these products has increased considerably in recent years and with it, the risks of intoxication due to their overuse or misuse.

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