A Guide to Different Types of Winter Squash

by | Read time: 10 minutes

High in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, there’s no doubt winter squash is a nutritional powerhouse. But these yellow and orange fruits are also culinary all-stars, thanks to a range of flavors, natural sweetness and the kind of heartiness you crave on a cold, snowy day.

Cubed and Halved Butternut Squash on Cutting Board to Exemplify Different Types of Winter Squash | Vitacost.com/blog

Whether you prefer a paleo diet, follow a vegan lifestyle or omit gluten from your meals, winter squash always accommodates specialty diets. Plus, it’s one of the easiest foods to digest. It’s also safe for nightshade-free, dairy-free and grain-free diets. Not to mention, there are all types of squashes, which means you get to enjoy them in a variety of dishes.

20 Types of Winter Squash

You’re probably familiar with yellow squash (sometimes called “summer squash”) and green zucchini. They’re available all year long and usually get more plate time during the warmer months. Winter squash, on the other hand, usually hits the market starting late in the summer and can be harvested through winter. Plus, they keep well in a cool, dry place. Hence, the reason these varieties are favorites for hibernation season. 

Here are 20 types of winter squash that are easy to find and ready to be eaten.

1. Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is easy to find year-round. It’s small, dark green and shaped like, well, an acorn. Most acorn squashes weigh only a few pounds, so they’re quick to cook. Choose one that’s half orange and half green acorn if you plan on storing it for a few days. Orange-tinted acorn squashes are ready to serve; but when left for too long, they become too ripe and tough in texture.

How to cook it: Because of its small size, acorn squash has a mildly sweet flavor when roasted and a delicate mouthfeel. Try it in this roasted acorn squash with fig-balsamic glaze.

2. Ambercup Squash

Also known as a red kabocha, this variety of squash is short, round and has a sweet-nutty flavor. Though about the same size as acorn squash, ambercup squash features slightly firmer flesh. When properly stored, it has a long shelf life.  Look for a beautiful bright orange-red color – it’s easy to spot. Also, you want your ambercup squash to be pretty firm when you press your thumb on it.

How to cook it: The sweet taste of ambercup squash makes it a great substitute for sweet potato hash with kale. Peel it, cube it and roast it in the oven or over a skillet with peppers and onions.

3. Banana Squash

Banana squash gets its name, because it’s long and yellow like the fruit. It’s also significantly larger, with most banana squashes weighing in at eight to 10 pounds. In some parts of the country, you can find a jumbo pink banana squash that’s 20 to 30 pounds and feeds an army. Banana squash is usually available year-round, but you’ll find the cream of the crop between summer and early fall.

How to cook it: Banana squash is easy to prepare and has a similar flavor to delicata squash. It can be roasted to enjoy as is, or peeled and diced to be tossed into soups, stews, chilis and more.

4. Buttercup Squash

This lovely little squash is green, round and similar in size to an acorn squash. In fact, it looks like a green pumpkin. It’s part of the Turban squash family and has a similar flavor, texture and exterior. The orange, creamy flesh is among the sweetest of winter squash varieties. Its peak starts in early fall and runs through winter.

How to cook it: Bring out the buttercup squash’s sweet-nutty flavor by roasting or baking it in the oven.

5. Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is one everyone knows and loves. It has a bottleneck shape and ranges in size from small to very large. No matter how you prepare it, butternut squash is a must-have in the kitchen, come fall. Luckily, butternut squash is available year-round. Look for a pale orange exterior.

How to cook it: Inside, is a deep orange flesh that’s delicious roasted and thrown into a salad with arugula, dried cranberries and goat cheese.

6. Calabaza Squash

Calabaza squash looks more like a melon than a squash, thanks to its light green skin and flesh. It’s similar in size and shape to spaghetti squash, with a stringy interior that’s perfect for making vegetable noodles. Depending on where you find it and where it’s grown, calabaza squash is also known as chilacayote. Calabaza squash first appears late summer, but it peaks in the fall through winter.

How to cook it: Bake, steam, roast or even grill this type of squash. You can even puree it to make a smooth pie filling or thick sauce.

7. Carnival

This tasty little orange squash is a hybrid breed of sweet dumpling and acorn squash. It is usually cream colored with orange spots and dark green stripes.

How to cook it: It’s a delicious option to try roasted or baked with other winter veggies, such as beets, fennel and sweet potatoes. It has a tender flesh, sweet flavor and is full of seeds that can also be roasted and eaten like pumpkin seeds.

8. Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

The Long Island cheese pumpkin is one of the oldest types of pumpkins cultivated in America. It get its name because the outsize peel and flesh resemble orange-colored cheese. Make no mistake; there’s nothing cheesy about its flavor. This is a must-try winter squash if you love pumpkin.

How to cook it: The Long Island cheese pumpkin is grown as large as a Jack-o-lantern, but you can use it like a sugar pumpkin and puree it for pumpkin pie.

9. Delicata Squash

Delicata is a long squash that has a sweet flavor like corn. Its long shape is also easy to spot and ranges from green to yellow, depending on its ripeness. Some breeds are even striped with dark green vertical lines. Find the delicata squash at its peak starting late summer and running through early fall. Note that its skin is a bit softer than other winter squashes.

How to cook it: This squash is best baked or steamed and enjoyed as a side dish. You can even eat the skin.

10. Fairytale Pumpkins

These pumpkins look like something out of a fairytale with an exotic, gold-orange hue. They’re also very large in size. You may find a fairytale pumpkin sold under the name Dickinson, Kentucky or Chelsea Squash. Some types of canned pumpkin are actually made from this variety, because their flesh is a dark orange color. The fairytale pumpkin is only available September through November. It takes a while to reach its peak color, but you’ll know it’s ready when the fruit is firm and has reached an orange-cheese shade.

How to cook it: Simply slice the fairytale pumpkin along its ribs and bake. Sprinkle with cinnamon and coconut oil with buttery flavor for a sweet side or healthy dessert.

11. Gold Nugget Squash

Sometimes known as oriental pumpkin, gold nugget squash is a small type of squash; most only weigh one to three pounds. With its orange peel and tender orange flesh, gold nugget squash is sometimes mistaken for a pumpkin. It tastes best starting in late summer through the winter months.

How to cook it: You can slice this squash in half lengthwise and roast it, or pierce it in a few spots and bake to be thrown into soups, stews and more. The sweet flavor is perfect in many fall recipes.

12. Hubbard Squash

Hubbard squash comes in blue and red varieties. It has a lumpy exterior and dark, bluish-green exterior interior. Blue hubbard squash may also be sold as blue ballet squash, because they look so similar. Find it at its peak starting in early fall.

How to cook it: Peel and boil your Hubbard squash to use it in sweet pies.

13. Kabocha

Kabocha may just be the most well-loved winter squash. It goes by many other names, though, including Ebisu, Delica, Hoka, Hokkaido or Japanese Pumpkin. The skin is very orange in color, but can be green, blue or red, depending on where they’re grown. Kabocha is available year-round.

How to cook it: It’s super sweet, incredibly nutty and has a delicious texture almost like a sweet potato. So you can enjoy it in any dish you would a sweet potato or buttercup squash.

14. Red Kuri Squash

Red kuri squash is a small, red variety of hubbard squash. Its dark red color and sweet, chestnut flavor make it a well-loved squash. Red kuri squash is also packed with fiber, vitamin A, potassium and vitamin C. This type of squash starts maturing in September. Harvests usually last until November.

How to cook it: Cut the squash in half from the top, scoop out the seeds and roast until tender. Red kuri is best used in pies and soups.

15. Spaghetti Squash

The name of this squash is telling of its interior. Spaghetti squash has a stringy flesh with a very mild flavor and crunchy texture similar to spaghetti noodles.

Spaghetti squash is ready for the picking when its flesh is hard and golden yellow.

How to cook it: Spaghetti squash is very mild in flavor with notes of sweetness in the background and tastes great when served under marinara or plain tomato sauce. Also, try it baked the way it is in this garlic butter spaghetti squash recipe. 

16. Blue Hokkaido Pumpkin

Blue hokkaido Similar in size and shape to a kabocha squash, blue hoikkaido is a delicious and very sweet type of pumpkin that’s perfect when roasted or baked.

Hokkaido pumpkin is round with an edible skin and very sweet with a nutty, chestnut flavor.

How to cook it: It has a sweet flavor that comes out when roasted or baked.

17. Sugar Pumpkin

This is your classic Halloween-style pumpkin. It’s short in size, dark orange in color and has a short stem – perfect for carving and eating. The sugar pumpkin flesh may range from stringy to firm.

How to cook it: The sugar pumpkin’s sweet flavor is perfect for roasting and using in pumpkin pie.

18. Sweet Dumpling Squash

Green and white or pale-yellow stripes appear on this type of squash, making it easy to spot at the store. As its name indicates, it’s a very sweet squash with a similar flesh to acorn squash in terms of consistency. The sweet dumpling squash has an edible peel is edible that’s high in fiber. This squash is one of the most versatile easy to find nationwide.

How to cook it: Make a sweet side dish by roasting the sweet dumpling squash and filling it with butter, brown sugar and pecans.

19. Turban Squash

Turban squashes come in many varieties and are easy to spot, because they look like they are wearing a turban hat. They’re sweet, firm and delicious. They range from orange to green in color, with some varieties having a mix of both.

How to cook it: Turban squashes are wonderful for roasting and baking but are also delicious when puréed into a stand-alone soup.

10. White Pumpkin

Though bright white on the outside, white pumpkins have a very dark orange flesh. The flavor is sweet and similar in consistency to other types of pumpkins. White pumpkins are also called ghost pumpkins, snowballs, luminas or caspers.

How to cook it: White pumpkins are beautiful as natural Halloween decorations. But it’s flesh is also very edible. You can use it in place of an orange pumpkin for baking pie or making soup.

Winter squash: storage tips

Be sure to store all winter squash in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry that gets good air circulation or on your counter away from the stove. These types of squash have a very long shelf life and some can be kept for six months or more if stored properly. However, once your squash is cooked, eat it fast. It has a high water content, so it’s not great for freezing and doesn’t last past three or four days in the refrigerator.

Winter squash: cooking tips

Hard squashes and pumpkins taste best when roasted or baked in the oven at high temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. A good rule of thumb is to prepare them like you would whole sweet potatoes. Also note that squash and pumpkin are much easier to cook whole, since their tough exteriors make it hard to cut through them.

When mixing into a recipe, remember that squash pairs really well with aromatic herbs and spices. Think rosemary, tarragon, oregano, black pepper, Herbs dé Provence and a little lemon juice. For a sweeter dish, use cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and a touch of cloves.

How to bake and roast winter squash

Simply place the whole squash (or pumpkin) on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour – depending on its size – at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once tender, pierce your winter squash with a fork to vent and cool down for 10 minutes. From there, you can slice and serve as you wish. The internal flesh should scoop right out along with the seeds, which means there’s no messy cutting and peeling involved.

How to use winter squash in soups and stews

To use winter squash or pumpkin in soups and stews, you’ll need to cut, seed and peel them first. Use a large, high-quality knife to cut them open and then slice into evenly sized pieces. Treat them as you would potatoes in terms of how long they take to cook, as well as the texture they have in soups and stews. Squash and pumpkin are also perfect in the slow-cooker, though some varieties can get watery and lose their flavor.

Winter squash nutrition info

No matter which squash you choose, they are all low in calories, have zero fat and are great sources of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. Once the weather drops, start swapping nutritious winter squash for your baked sweet potato. With so many types of squash, your taste buds will never get bored.