Squashes are famous for their versatility and nutritious value in the culinary world. However, do you know that over 100 different squashes are available throughout the year? Here are the top 20 varieties that can fit most cuisines.
The word "squash" instills a sense of excitement for gardeners and chefs alike. You can obtain your favorite squash from any supermarket throughout the year, but they are easy to grow at home as well. Many culinary experts have a few vines of squashes growing in their yard at any given time.
While you may be familiar with a few varieties, there are over 100 different kinds of squash that differ in color, shape, and size. To save on time, here is a detailed piece on the top 20 of the most popular ones and how you can grow them on your own.
What Qualifies as a Squash?
All squashes belong to the same genus: Cucurbita. Although they classify as fruits from a botanical perspective, most people refer to them as vegetables. They share the same basic structure — a hard outer rind with a pulpy interior. The outer cover protects, whereas the fleshy part holds the seeds and helps the fruit grow.
Squashes are tendril-bearing plants that grow along a hairy stem. They have unisexual flowers on the vines, like cucumbers or watermelons. Most of them make up delicacies of the area they are popular in, owing to their rich taste and high nutritional value. Squashes contain high amounts of fibers, vitamin A, vitamin C, and minerals like iron, manganese, zinc, and potassium.
Types of Squash as Per Seasons
Depending on the season, you can classify squashes into two types: winter and summer. The season denotes when you can harvest the fruits of any squash. There is a third category (autumn squash), but it doesn't see much use as people can reap most of these squashes during summers.
Summer squashes don't need to mature before harvesting and have short crop cycles. They are ready to consume immediately after picking. You can characterize summer squash fruits through their soft seeds, thin skins, and tender flesh. As such, they require little to no cooking. You can find your pick from some common summer squashes below to beat the summer heat.
Zucchini is one of the most common kinds of summer squash. Its sweet taste and nutritious pale-colored flesh make it suitable for various delicacies. You can comfortably grow zucchini in your backyard over a few weeks. Just three plants can yield several fruits over a good season.
Before planting zucchini, you need to let the winter frost pass and get a crisp 15.5° C (60° F) throughout the day. Plant the seeds close to each other so that the plants can properly pollinate. Zucchini needs sunlight throughout the day and soil free of pests yet rich in nutrients.
Ideally, you should let the zucchini grow at least 15.2 cm (6") in length before picking them from the plant. Although the squash is ready to consume in smaller sizes, a more extended squash is easier to cook and offers improved nutrition.
Green Eggs Squash
Need the rich, versatile zucchini flavor in a sliceable and grillable shape? Green eggs are just what you need. This hybrid variety of squash grows in bushy vines with thin spines. Thus, it is easy to grow on planters that can't support a lot of weight.
You can obtain a decent size of squash within just eight weeks of sowing. Plant the seeds after the last frost has passed, keeping them 7.5 to 10 cm (3" to 4") apart. Wait till the squash grows to at least 12.7 cm (5") before picking. If you store green eggs in a cool and dry place, they are still fit for consumption after seven days.
Cousa squash is similar to zucchini but with a more bulbous lower end. It means that you get more squash from the same size plant. Cousa is quite a popular ingredient in Lebanese and Syrian cuisines.
Like zucchini, cousa plants require well-drained soil and ample sunlight to grow. Peak harvest season typically arrives within six weeks. But unlike zucchini, you don't need to wait for cousa squash to expand to full length. You can obtain a rich-tasting sample for your stuffed roll even when the plant is young.
Uniquely identifiable with a bent neck and orange-colored peel, crookneck is a summer squash with a sweet buttery taste. Chefs often use it as an essential ingredient in pasta and soups. Although crookneck doesn't take much effort to grow, it can prove tricky to nail the exact specifications of the soil.
Crookneck needs a pH level of 5.8 to 6.8 to properly thrive in well-drained, fertile soil. Moreover, each plant requires exposure to sunlight for 6 to 8 hours every day. Once the harvest begins, you can still grow crookneck from the same plants for the rest of the season. As crookneck squash has a thick bush, it is easy to manage its growth in small gardens or containers.
It is best known as scallop squash. Pattypan is popular among children and teens due to its iconic shape and multicolor appearance. It is a summer squash with a sweet and nutty flavor. Fruits from a pattypan squash can be yellow, green, or white. You can eat a pattypan fruit raw, but sauteed, steamed, or roasted versions are especially delicious.
Due to its semi-bush nature, pattypan is challenging to manage in small confines. Yet, unlike zucchini, it doesn't mind some shade during its growing cycle. Ensure the soil in your garden is well-drained and rich in nutrients if you desire to grow any pattypan. Sow the seeds after the last frost and when the temperature is warm for most of the day.
Cuarzo is another alternative to zucchini. This summer squash has a grayish texture and a better disease tolerance than other varieties. There is minimal difference in taste, and you can replace it with regular zucchini in any recipe.
Many people prefer growing cuarzo over zucchini because it offers an extended harvest period with the exact requirements. The seeds mature into fruits within 45 days, which is quick even for summer squashes. Due to its high disease resistance, the yield is much higher than any other type of zucchini.
Papaya Pear Squash
Although it gets its name from tropical papaya and pear, this summer squash shares the qualities of neither. It could be hard to identify if not for its bright yellow peel and green speckles. Its pulp is rich in various nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and folic acid. You can consume it without peeling or use it as a flavoring ingredient in your lasagna or casserole.
The best time to grow papaya pear squash is from mid-summer to early fall. Compared to other summer squashes, papaya pear requires much more water content in the soil. You can begin harvesting just 40 days after sowing the seeds. Any fruit 7.6 cm (3") long and 5 to 7.6 cm (2" to 3") wide is ripe enough to pick.
An heirloom fruit native to Central and South America, tatume is sweet-tasting summer squash. Its outer shell is dark green, but the flesh is pale or white. Many Mexican dishes often use it as the main ingredient, as it is sweeter than zucchini or crookneck.
Tatume is a long vine form of the plant. Thus, you cannot grow it within a small garden or a container with limited space. The fruit requires a temperature of at least 18.3° C (65° F) to commence a proper harvest cycle. Experts recommend a total sunlight exposure from 6 to 8 hours in addition to well-drained and nutrient-rich soil.
Although it has a lineage of winter squashes such as acorns and delicata, zephyr is a summer squash. It has a sweet taste with a somewhat nutty texture and leaves a unique grassy aftertaste. You can identify zephyr squash by its distinctive dual-tone yellow-and-green skin.
Zephyr plants are easy to grow in backyard gardens, thanks to their small size and quick growth. After 3 to 4 weeks from planting the seeds, you can harvest suitable fruits. The best time to sow the seeds for an indoor nursery is four weeks before the last frost. If you plan on growing zephyr squash outdoors, you can plant the seeds as soon as the last ice disappears.
Kabocha is a hybrid squash with substantial vine growth. Thanks to its nutty flavor, this squash is an excellent addition to many soups and curries. You can spot it quickly with its dark green outer shell with light green or yellow lines running down the edges.
Kabocha plants require temperatures in the range of 21.1° C to 35° C (70° F to 95° F). Once the sowing is complete, you need to ensure that the vines get plenty of water and sunlight. The squash is typically ripe for harvest after 50 days. It helps to cut the vines 5 cm (2") from either side of the fruit before removing it for storage.
Squashes that have their harvest season at the end of the summer season come under the winter squash category. These squashes have a hard outer shell and require some time before they are ready to consume. Most people store them without refrigeration for at least a month. You can find some typical examples with their detailed characteristics below.
Cheese Pumpkin Squash
Fresh cheese pumpkins are crucial ingredients in many dishes. You might know them better as Long Island pumpkins, as the first batch saw harvest in Long Island, NY, during the 1860s. This winter squash is suitable for baking and steaming, but it tastes good as raw slices, too.
The ideal temperature for cheese pumpkin squash is around 18.3° C to 23.8° C (65° F to 75° F). The seeds start germinating after 5 to 7 days, but you can't begin harvesting before at least 90 days past the seeding date. The weight of a fully grown cheese pumpkin ranges from 2.7 to 4.5 Kg (6 to 10 lbs).
Butternut is easy to identify with its elongated shape, pale color, and bright orange pulp. The plant has highly nutritious and delicious fruit. Many soups, pasta, and fillings often use butternut squash due to its heat retention and digestive properties.
You can grow butternut squash at your home without a hitch because of its small bush size. Like most other winter squash plants, butternut seeds require plenty of sunlight and water to germinate. The soil should remain rich in nutrients, and you can use compost and manure to make the most of the harvest season.
Carving Pumpkin Squash
Better known as the field pumpkin, this squash floods the markets as Halloween approaches. Carving pumpkins have thinner skins and larger sizes, so you can easily cut shapes into them. Hence their decorative use as scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns. While they may not have the savory taste of other pumpkins, they are still very nutritious.
To grow them for your favorite pie, you need to plant the seeds with careful planning. It can be 100 days before they mature. Make sure to mulch the ground regularly and keep it free of pests. The soil should absorb at least 2.5 cm (1") of water every week. It would be best if you also used adequate amounts of compost or manure to fertilize the ground.
Thanks to its definitive round edges and dark-green color, acorn is a winter squash that you can easily spot. It is rich in fibers and antioxidants, making it ideal for many nutritious dishes. You can consume acorn squash as a soup or use its bright yellow flesh in the stuffing of your favorite pie.
Since acorn squash only grows on large vines, it requires a sizable garden to develop a decent harvest. Moreover, you need to grow it in soil with an average temperature of 21.1° C to 32.2° C (70° F to 90° F) and ample sunlight. The ground should remain well-drained but without too much moisture content. The ideal pH of the soil for an acorn plant should fall between 5.5 to 6.8.
Like acorn, buttercup squash stands out due to its lack of emerging ridges. It is a perfect additive for stews and soups as a winter squash. The white pulp in the center has a sweet taste and makes for a great baking ingredient.
Still, this squash requires specific resources to bloom during the season properly. The soil must remain rich in nutrients and within a pH level of 6.0 to 6.8. The long vines make it less suitable for urban gardens, but the storage duration makes up for it. You can store buttercup fruits for up to 5 months in proper conditions.
The name "spaghetti squash" comes from the noodle-like fibrous pulp you find inside it. This flesh is full of nutrients and is easy to cook. The best way to eat spaghetti squash is to separate the flesh from the fruit and fry it. You can consume it as a healthier alternative to pasta or noodles.
You can sow spaghetti squash seeds when the day's temperature reaches at least 18.3° C (65° F). The soil where you plant the spaghetti seeds should have enough nutrients. So, it would be best to use ample quantities of compost before the seeding.
Honeynut is a smaller hybrid of the butternut squash. Its outer shell has an orange tinge, while its inner pulp is dark orange and very sweet. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, perfect for baking a pie or serving in diced little pieces. You can roast honey nut fruits without peeling them.
As a winter squash, you may start sowing 110 days in advance when the summer sun is nice and hot. The best way is to form the soil in small hills that accommodate the 17.8 to 25.4 cm (7" to 10") long vines. Start the harvest once the fruits are at least 12.7 cm (5") long.
Yokohama gets its name from the first Japanese port open to US travelers. It is a particular gray-colored squash with ridges and bumps. The fruit is similar in taste and size to a small pumpkin, yet with improved resistance to diseases and pests alongside a longer shelf life. You can eat it raw, but Yokohama flesh goes well with soups and stews.
To harvest Yokohama squash at home, you need to give it 4 to 6 weeks to fully mature. Plant the seeds with a separation of 25.4 to 30.5 cm (10" to 12"). It provides the fruit with enough space to grow and evenly distribute the nutrients. Yokohama is a winter squash that requires a temperature of 10° C to 18.3° C (50° F to 65° F) to propagate.
Sweet Dumpling Squash
The sweet dumpling, also known as carnival or dumpling squash, is a common household ingredient in South America. It has a pale, green, or yellow outer skin with a yellow or orange pulp inside. You can bake, roast, boil, or caramelize the flesh as per your choice of dish. It also serves as an excellent addition to a soup or quesadilla.
Unlike other winter squashes, sweet dumplings grow very fast. You can harvest the first fruits within three months of sowing the seeds. You can sow the seeds as soon as the last frost disappears from your area. The soil must remain well-drained, full of moisture, and rich in nutrients for sweet dumplings to sprout.
The Hubbard squash also goes by the name of green pumpkin. It is one of the largest winter squash varieties, weighing a maximum of 22.7 Kg (50 lbs). You might prefer it for its edible hard outer shell and long shelf life of 6 months. Its yellowish-orange flesh is starchy and dense. It makes for a great meal after baking or steaming.
Due to its large size, Hubbard squash requires much more nutrients from the soil than most other winter squashes. Thus, it would help if you used ample compost quantities before sowing the seeds. The ideal temperature to let the vines grow is around 18.3° C (65° F). You can start harvesting after 90 to 120 days post the sowing season.
Is Consuming Squash Beneficial for Skin?
Can You Grow Squash in Your House?
All squash plants grow into a vine from seeds. So, it would be wise to separate the hills to accommodate the size of the fruits. Else, you may need to replant the vines. Make sure that the soil is rich in nutrients. Organic methods like compost and manure work best with squash plants. While the months of sowing the seeds vary, you need to provide 6 to 8 hours of sunlight to each plant to make every season successful.
Is Squash Residue Good for Cooking?
You can cook honey nut, acorn, and delicata without peeling since their skin is too thin to become an obstacle. If anything, it adds to the texture of the dish. On the other hand, squashes like kuri, kabocha, and butternut have thick skins with lots of fiber. You can steam or boil them to add as a side with any dinner course.
Squashes represent an easy crop that you can grow and harvest from the comfort of your home. They can become part of your daily diet without causing a massive drain on your budget. We hope this article gave you an insight into the opportunities you can reap. So, why wait now that the frost is gone? Grab a few seeds to the delicacy you desire today!