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An array of winter squash in the field [CREDIT: UF/IFAS]

Getting to know: pumpkin and winter squash

Did you know that squash varieties that are harvested in the fall are known as winter squash? Winter squash has a lot of varieties including acorn, butternut, Hubbard and spaghetti squash and of course it’s cousin, pumpkin.

Winter squash as a whole have high levels of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene which means they are high in Vitamin A. But they are also a good source of Vitamin C and fiber. Squash is also known to have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research: “Growing research supports including foods such as winter squash, that are rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, as part of healthful eating habits that can reduce cancer risk. In population studies, higher blood levels of carotenoids are linked with a lower risk of overall cancer.”

Pumpkin seeds, pumpkins and squash. [CREDIT: Pixabay.com]

Pumpkin seeds, pumpkins and squash. [CREDIT: Pixabay.com]

There are so many good health reasons to enjoy winter squash. Don’t forget, though, that winter squash varieties, including pumpkin, contain seeds that can be a healthy and delicious snack. It’s as easy as 1-2-3 to prepare them:

  1. separate the pulp from the seeds,
  2. spread the seeds out in a single layer on a cookie sheet (lining with parchment paper makes for easy cleanup), and
  3. bake at about 170 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 to 25 minutes or until the seeds are tender.

And, certainly, you can enjoy the squash by baking, steaming or even boiling. Before you cut into any fruit or vegetable, remember that it’s important to thoroughly rinse the outside to avoid the possibility of transferring pathogens or other contaminants into the meat of the vegetable or fruit.

If you find you have purchased more squash than you can enjoy, try cooking the squash and freezing for later. Pack your cooked squash into freezer containers or freezer bags, leaving about a half-inch of head space, and freeze for up to a year.

Sometimes you will see people decorate with winter squash because of their beautiful colors, textures and variety of shapes and sizes. While that’s certainly appealing, why not enjoy the rich flavor and numerous nutritional benefits? Winter squash is a great addition to our meals throughout the year. So, don’t wait until Thanksgiving to start enjoying them.

For some recipe ideas visit:
Recipes with Winter Squash. USDA. MyPlate Kitchen. SNAP Recipes.

For more information, visit https://extension.msu.edu.

For more information about winter squash, check out the following websites:
American Institute for Cancer Research
University of Illinois – “Watch Your Garden Grow”
United States Department of Agriculture SNAP-Ed Connection

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