Acorn squash is a type of winter squash that belongs to the Cucurbitaceaeor gourd family, which also includes pumpkin, butternut squash, and zucchini. It has inedible hard, thin skin and firm flesh. It is roughly egg-shaped with thick ridges like a ribbed acorn. It is five to eight inches long, four to five inches across, and has a defined point at the bottom. The flesh is sweeter than summer squash. The growing period is longer than summer squash, giving the gourd plenty of time to develop its deep flavor.
Along with the standard green variety, you may also run across orange and white acorn squash. Although available in many areas year-round, prime season for acorn squash is early fall through winter. Squash is one of the easiest vegetables to digest and is low in calories.
Acorn squash is extremely nutrient-dense for its size, but also, it has a diverse range of nutrients. It is rich in dietary fiber and like most fruits and vegetables, it is very low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Acorn squash has significant levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamin, pantothenic acid, and other B-family vitamins.
Acorn squash provides these minerals: potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, phosphorous, and calcium. Many of these minerals play integral parts in the development of new bones, as well as the regrowth and healing of the bone matter we already have.
Though they’re botanically classified as a fruit, they’re considered a starchy vegetable and can be used similarly to other high-carb vegetables, such as potatoes, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes.
Of all the squashes, acorn squash is the healthiest. It offers more folate, calcium, magnesium (nearly one-third of a day’s worth in one cup) and potassium than butternut, hubbard and spaghetti squash. Eat one cup of cooked acorn squash and you’ll get more potassium (896 milligrams) than if you ate two medium bananas (844 mg).
Acorn squash is a great source of vitamin C, which is one of the best ways to boost your immune system. Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, stimulates the production of white blood cells, which defend the body from pathogens and other unwanted germs/microbes. Vitamin C is also an important part of the body building muscle tissue, blood vessels, teeth, skin, and organs. Vitamin C also works as an, helping to protect the body from serious conditions, like heart diseases.
Vitamin A is found in significant quantities in acorn squash. Foods high in beta-carotene reduce oxidative stress in the eyes, helping to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.Along with protecting the eyes, vitamin A also plays an important role in maintaining skin health.
The dietary fiber in acorn squash regulates our digestion by adding bulk to our bowel movements. Fiber regulates the levels of blood sugar in the body, helping to prevent the development of diabetes and maintaining stable glucose levels.
There is a high level of potassium in acorn squash. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it relaxes blood vessels and arteries, reducing stress on the heart and lowering blood pressure. Potassium also helps to regulate the fluid balance in the cells and tissues.regulates the uptake of potassium, so the high content of magnesium in acorn squash makes these effects even stronger.
Acorn squash is very high in carbohydrates, and while there aren’t any simple sugars in acorn squash, as you would normally find in, they still fill the body up in terms of calories. Those on low-carb diets should keep portions small.
How to Buy
It’s difficult to judge an acorn squash by its outward appearance so you will need to test the vegetable by its weight and skin texture. It should feel heavy for its size with smooth, dull skin and absolutely no soft spots. Harvested when fully ripe, the average acorn squash weighs from one to three pounds; any larger and it might be dry and stringy. When comparing, be aware that a lighter weight acorn squash has lost moisture through the skin and will be drier.
Look for some partial orange on the skin as a sign of maturity. On the other hand, too much orange coloring on the skin indicates an overripe squash. A good balance between green and orange coloring is optimum. Shiny skin indicates it was picked before fully mature unless the producer has applied wax.
How to Store
Winter squash will last up to a month in a cool (50 to 55 F) dark cellar or storage area, but only about two weeks in the refrigerator. Ideally, only cut or cooked acorn squash should be refrigerated; they will suffer chill damage at temperatures below 50 F. Dry, hot air will cause loss of moisture, resulting in a shorter shelf life. Squash with a bit of the stem still intact will help slow down moisture loss.
Plan on using acorn squash within two weeks of purchase, since you never know how long it has already been in storage and under what conditions. Once cut, place raw pieces in an airtight glass container, refrigerate, and use within four days. Cooked acorn squash can be sealed and refrigerated up to four days.
Before freezing, acorn squash must be cooked. Cook squash and remove the pulp from the skin. You can leave it in chunks or mash it. Place in airtight containers and freeze up to 12 months.
How to Cook
To make acorn squash easier to cut, pierce the skin in a few spots, place it in a microwave oven, and heat on high for 2 minutes. Let stand for another few minutes before carving.
Use a sturdy knife to cut a squash in half, stem end to the point rather than across the diameter. To prevent the halves from rocking on a baking tray, cut a small slice off the bottom to create a flat surface for them to rest on. Remove the fibers and seeds from the center of the squash before steaming, broiling, or baking the halves.
To bake acorn squash, place the squash halves on a baking sheet. You can also bake acorn squash whole; be sure to pierce the skin with the tip of a sharp knife in multiple places first. The timing depends on the size, but generally, you can plan on an hour to an hour and a half, in a 350-400 F oven. The skin should yield to gentle pressure, and the flesh should be very tender. To brown the surface of a cut squash, roast it on high for the final 15 minutes of cooking.
To quickly microwave acorn squash, cut a whole squash in half, put it on a microwave-safe plate, and cook it for 13 minutes on high. Do not add water. Avoid boiling acorn squash because it damages both the flavor and the texture.
You can also eat acorn squash blossoms and toast the seeds for snacking just as you would pumpkin seeds.