Squash, pumpkins and gourds signify the arrival of the fall harvest and are also loaded with nutrients particularly good to consumer during cold and flu season.
A Thanksgiving tradition, squash was a staple in the diets of Native Americans long before the pilgrims started the tradition. Squash, pumpkins and other gourds have come to signify the arrival of the fall harvest and include both winter and summer varieties. Some examples include, zucchini from the summer and butternut, buttercup, acorn, pumpkin and kabocha from winter.
Although squash are botanically classified as a fruit, they are considered a vegetable for culinary purposes. Squash are often served as a side dish and are popular in soups, breads and pies. A single serving of orange squash is chock full of vitamin A and potassium. The carotenoids (vitamin A precursors including lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin) that give many squash signature orange color are powerful antioxidants that protect health, especially during cold and flu season. As well as having a good amount of vitamin C, potassium, fiber, manganese and folate, they are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and copper.
Squash is mostly composed of starchy carbohydrates but an increasing number of studies now show that the starch-related components have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as anti-diabetic, and insulin-regulating properties.
What about the seeds? Subtly sweet and nutty, the roasted seeds from inside are one of the most nutritious and flavorful seeds around – especially from pumpkin. While pumpkin seeds are available year round, they are the freshest in the fall when pumpkins are in season. They are also known as pepitas and are a good source of iron, zinc and essential fatty acids. Some are encased in a yellow-white husk, although some varieties produce seeds without shells.
Seeds should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. While they may stay edible for several months, they seem to lose their peak freshness after about one to two months.
Most varieties of squash start out green and turn orange when ripe but some are actually ripe when green. When choosing for cooking or baking, look for fruits that are heavy for their size with a hard shell.