If I were to take a wild guess, I bet most of you rarely cook with the butternut squash…sure, this winter squash might be unsightly to some with its odd shape and orange color. But it tastes amazing, somewhere between sweet and nutty (similar to the sweet potato) and if you’re at all brave enough to explore the many foods I’ve introduced thus far, then the butternut squash should be a cinch!
This delicious “fruit” (yes, the butternut squash is technically a fruit) is extremely versatile. You can toast it, roast it, chop it, puree it…really, the many culinary choices are endless! This squash can take the center stage at the dinner table or accent a number of other foods very nicely, such as broiled white fish or seasoned chicken, and let’s not forget, the butternut is in season all winter long! Why the importance of eating seasonal foods? Although today’s global marketplace allows us to buy foods grown virtually anywhere in the world all year round, these options are not the most desirable. Why? When you purchase and consume in season foods, you can be assured of 3 things:
1. Flavor: Foods which grow according to the seasons are in balance with nature’s rotation and tend to have the most flavor. As an example, you cannot grow strawberries in the dead of winter for very specific reasons. Strawberries require an intense amount of sunlight and do not thrive in colder temperatures. To the same like, a butternut squash grows slowly and thrives in colder temps and would therefore never survive in the hot days of summer.
2. Nutritional Value: In season foods are fresher as they spend less time en route (long commute times can lessen the nutritional value of food once it hits your table). Researchers also suggest that seasonal foods are naturally equipped with the necessary micronutrients needed specific to the season at the time. Also, we need to be mindful of the fact that purchasing food in season will reduce the energy (and associated CO2 emissions) needed to grow and transport.
3. Cost-Effectiveness: It simply costs more to grow and ship food which isn’t in line with nature’s seasonal cycle. When produce is in season locally, the relative abundance of the crop usually makes it less expensive. Think of the packaged herbs you see in a grocery store during the winter – a few (usually limp) sprigs of basil, all too frequently with black speckles and moldy leaves, cost about $3 per half ounce. In contrast, the gorgeous, bright green, crisp basil you see in the summer (when basil is in season) often sells for as little as $1-2 for an enormous bunch. If you’re looking to reduce your grocery bill, purchasing whole, unprocessed seasonal foods is the #1 way to do so.
Check out this website which details what foods are in season depending upon the time of year, “Eat The Seasons“! Okay, now that we’ve established a number of solid reasons as to why you should buy seasonal foods, let’s get back to the lovely butternut!
So what should you look for when shopping? Butternut squash have a hard, light-tan rind and a golden orange flesh. They range in size from 6 to 12 inches long and weigh between 2 and 5 pounds; choose one that feels heavy for its size. The skin should be smooth and uniform in color with a matte surface. Also, note that this hardy squash can be stored for up to 3 months without spoiling! You can store several of them and they will endure for a significant period of time which is yet another reason as to why you should become a seasonal consumer. Winter produce is by nature designed to last longer!
The butternut squash boasts an impressive nutrient profile. Although winter squash has long been recognized as an important food source of carotenoids, only recently have research studies documented just how fantastic the butternut squash can be when it comes to these key antioxidants: lutein, zeaxanthin. The unique carotenoid content is not the butternut’s only claim to fame in the antioxidant department, however. This squash tops the chart on immune-supportive Vitamin A (which again, is very necessary during the harsher cold weather months) as well as a ton of vitamin C. This food also provides a good amount of five B-complex vitamins! Those vitamins are B1, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, and folate, which are thought to assist in blood sugar regulation, as well as provide sustained energy. Another notable nutrient – manganese. I continue to bring foods to your attention which contain higher amounts of manganese and here’s why:
- Help your body utilize several key nutrients such as biotin, thiamine, ascorbic acid, and choline
- Keep your bones strong and healthy
- Help your body synthesize fatty acids and cholesterol
- Maintain normal blood sugar levels
- Promote optimal function of your thyroid gland
- Maintain the health of your nerves
- Protect your cells from free-radical damage
So, have I yet convinced you to go stock up on your butternut squash? YES! Excellent! Get to cookin’ with these 2 super yummy, healthy recipes Pearled Barley and Butternut Squash and Curried Butternut Squash Soup. Trust me, you and your entire family will soon become big fans of the butternut – enjoy! Oh, and if you’d appreciate a little guidance on how to prepare your butternut squash, please click here.
Try something different this fall and winter and nourish yourself and family with the delicious, hardy, nutritious butternut squash!