The leaves are changing and the air has a crisp feel—you might say it’s sweater weather, but we know it as winter squash season. Come fall, we’re stocking up on all the gourds we can find at the farmers market and crafting up cozy, hearty, squash-centric dinner ideas in our head. But we don’t like to play favorites (sorry, pumpkin) and considering the myriad types to choose from, it’d be wise to read up on all the winter squash varieties—like butternut, buttercup and something called Blue Hubbard—you can cook with.
13 Winter Squash Varieties to Know (and What to Make with Them)
How to buy winter squash:
When choosing a winter squash, whether from the grocery store or at a farmers market, first take a look at the stem. On a ripe winter squash, it should be tan and dry with a frayed, fibrous or cork-like texture. Next, check out the rind: Is it dull and extremely hard, or shiny and soft enough to be dented with a fingernail? The former indicates a properly ripened and hardened winter squash. No matter the color of the variety, it should be vivid and matte (not pale or glossy) with no blemishes or soft spots.
How to store winter squash:
Winter squash are harvested in the late summer through the fall before “curing” or “hardening off”—they’re left out in the air to toughen their rind. What’s that have to do with storage? Basically, it means that they’ll keep for months without refrigeration. You can store most winter squash varieties on your counter or, even better, in a cool, dry place, for up to three months. Once sliced, it should be wrapped tightly or kept in an airtight container and moved to the fridge, where it will stay fresh for about five days.
Is winter squash healthy?
You bet. All types of winter squash are rich in fiber and nutrients like beta carotene, vitamin C and potassium. Winter squash is a good source of complex carbohydrates and, despite being low in calories (between 40 and 90 calories per cup cooked depending on the type), it’s dense and filling.
Winter squash vs. summer squash: What’s the difference?
Winter squash and summer squash are both types of gourds in the genus Cucurbita, but winter squash is harvested later in the growing season and available through the fall and winter. Aside from seasonality, summer squash is harvested and eaten when it’s still immature, which explains its tender, edible rind. Winter squash is harvested and eaten when it’s fully mature, and while some rinds are edible, they’re much tougher.
13 Types of Winter Squash to Try
1. Butternut Squash
Looks like: Maybe the most ubiquitous of the bunch, this oblong winter squash has a pale orange-brown exterior with a long stem and bulbous end. Its flesh is bright orange and soft when cooked. Psst: The more orange the rind, the riper and sweeter the flesh will taste.
Tastes like: Butternut has a sweet, candy-like taste that’s similar to a sweet potato and is good for roasting or pureeing into sauces and soups.
Store it: Butternut squash will store for three months in a cool, dark place.
Try it: Butternut Squash Carbonara
2. Delicata Squash
Looks like: Delicata has a long, cylindrical shape with a dark green and yellow striped rind and yellow-orange flesh when you slice into it.
Tastes like: This winter squash has an earthy, nutty flavor and a thin, edible rind that makes it ideal for slicing roasting or halving and stuffing
Store it: Delicata stores well at room temperature for about a month but will last longer in the fridge, since it has a thinner rind.
3. Acorn Squash
Looks like: Acorn squash is round and relatively small with a dark green rind and occasional orange markings—choose one that’s mostly green for the best ripeness. The flesh is yellow-orange and soft.
Tastes like: The flavor is mild, sweet and nutty and lends itself well to baking, roasting, steaming or halving and stuffing with savory fillings (like pork or turkey).
Store it: This winter squash can be stored for a month at room temperature, ideally in a cool, dark spot in your kitchen.
4. Kabocha Squash
Looks like: Also known as Japanese pumpkin, kabocha squash can either be green (with a deep green rind) or red, both with creamy, bright orange flesh.
Tastes like: This type of winter squash has an extremely creamy texture and nutty, sweet flavor, like a cross between a sweet potato and a pumpkin. It shines when roasted, pureed or even fried—kabocha tempura is popular in Japan.
Store it: Kabocha squash will keep for a month on your counter or in a cool, dark place.
5. Sugar Pumpkin
Looks like: Sugar pumpkin (aka pie pumpkin) is small and round with a bright orange rind and flesh.
Tastes like: Unsurprisingly, these cuties have a classic pumpkin flavor. They’re excellent in soups and curries, and while they can be used in pies, the result will have a stringier texture than canned puree.
Store it: Like other winter squash varieties, this one keeps for a month in a cool and dark place.
6. Buttercup Squash
Looks like: Buttercup squash has a dark green rind with light green stripes and a defining round ridge on the bottom. Cut it open to reveal the vibrant orange flesh.
Tastes like: It has a mild, super-sweet flavor and a drier texture than other winter squash varieties. The skin is hard to peel and can’t be eaten, so it’s easiest to bake or steam the squash before slicing and scooping out the flesh
Store it: It will store for up to three months at room temp.
Try it: Hearty Stuffed Butternut Squash (swap Buttercup)
7. Spaghetti Squash
Looks like: This squash has a cylindrical shape with a bright yellow exterior and matching interior.
Tastes like: Thanks to its mild flavor and distinctive texture, spaghetti squash is popular as a low-carb, low-cal alternative to pasta—halve and roast it, then use a fork to fluff the stringy flesh into “noodles.” It takes to a variety of sauces and accompaniments like ragù or meatballs.
Store it: This type of winter squash stores for about a month at room temperature.
8. Sweet Dumpling Squash
Looks like: Like its name implies, sweet dumpling squash is small, squat and compact. It has a pale yellow rind with distinct dark stripes and ridges and yellow-orange flesh.
Tastes like: Another edible rind variety, it has sweet flesh that tastes like a sweet potato or corn.
Store it: This winter squash will keep for three months at room temp.
9. Blue Hubbard Squash
Looks like: Blue Hubbard is big and bumpy, with a grey-green-blue outer rind and orange inside.
Tastes like: The sweet flesh can be roasted or steamed but great is for pureeing or mashing.
Store it: It’s often sold pre-cut because it’s so large, but it can be stored for up to six months if it’s left whole. (Otherwise, refrigerate the sliced squash.)
Try it: Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Leeks (swap Blue Hubbard)
10. Red Kuri Squash
Looks like: Red kuri is a type of Hubbard squash with a smooth red rind, yellow flesh and lopsided shape, kind of like an onion. It’s related to the Blue Hubbard but is smaller and easier to handle.
Tastes like: It has a chestnut-like flavor and smooth texture that’s great for roasting.
Store it: Store this squash for up to three months in a cool, dark place.
11. Carnival Squash
Looks like: A cross between a sweet dumpling squash and an acorn squash, this small-to-medium variety has deep ridges and a cream, yellow, orange and green rind—look for one with a bit of green for the best ripeness.
Tastes like: The pale orange flesh tastes a lot like a butternut squash and can be roasted or pureed and added to soup, stew or risotto.
Store it: Carnival squash can keep for one month at room temperature when left whole.
12. Turban Squash
Looks like: This medium-size squash has a bumpy exterior with a cap-like mound on the blossom end (hence the name). It can be green, orange, yellow or a combination of the three colors.
Tastes like: The mild, sweet orange flesh pairs well with meat and other vegetables. It’s best when roasted or baked—it’s hard to peel when raw but you can remove the skin after it’s cooked.
Store it: This winter squash will keep for up to three months without refrigeration.
Try it: Dairy-Free Butternut Squash ‘Fondue’ (sub in Turban instead of butternut!)
13. Honeynut Squash
Looks like: Honeynut is petite—no more than six inches long—with a similar shape and color to a butternut squash. The “designer” squash was developed by vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek at Cornell University as a way to provide the best nutrition, flavor and yield from a winter squash. (FYI, it can be found at farmers markets and through CSAs, or sometimes at Trader Joe’s in the fall.)
Tastes like: Thanks to its tiny size, it has an extremely concentrated flavor. The rind is edible like a delicata, and it can be used like a butternut squash or other small, sweet variety. It’s especially impressive (read: cute) when halved and roasted.
Store it: Honeynut squash only keeps for a few weeks at room temp due to its thin skin.
Try it: Hasselback Butternut Squash (swap Honeynut)