Fact Checked

What is Squash?

A. B. Kelsey
A. B. Kelsey

A squash is a fleshy vegetable protected by a rind. All squashes belong to one of four species of the Curcurbita family of vegetables. In the United States, they are typically categorized as summer or winter squashes.

Summer squash, sometimes called Italian or vegetable marrow, is a vegetable often grown in warm areas. It grows on bush-like plants and is harvested before the rind hardens and the fruit matures. These plants can produce abundant yields in a short amount of time. Summer varieties include zucchini, yellow crookneck, scallop and yellow straightneck squashes.

Yellow crookneck squash is a summer squash.
Yellow crookneck squash is a summer squash.

Winter squash varieties, on the other hand, are harvested and eaten when the fruit and seeds are mature and the skin has hardened into a tough rind. Because they stay on the vine longer, they tend to be considerably higher in nutritional value than their summer counterparts. Varieties includes acorn, spaghetti and butternut squashes.

Both summer and winter species are full of nutrients, containing trace amounts of B vitamins and providing healthy doses of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Squash rinds also contain beta-carotene. Vegetables in this family are a staple of many weight-loss diets because they are low in both calories and carbohydrates.

Zucchini is a summer squash.
Zucchini is a summer squash.

Although most people only enjoy the fruit of the squash, other parts of the vegetable can be eaten. The seeds are often ground into paste, pressed for oil or just eaten raw. The leaves, tendrils and shoots of the plant can be eaten as greens. Raw and fried flowers were an important part of the Native American diet.

In fact, Native American tribes gave the squash considerable importance and considered it one of the “Three Sisters.” This expression comes from an Iroquois myth that uses the vegetable along with maize and beans to represent three sisters who were inseparable. These crops were the primary plants used in agriculture and were typically planted together. The Native Americans also believed that squash seeds could increase fertility if planted close to the home.

Butternut squash is a winter squash.
Butternut squash is a winter squash.

Native Americans called the vegetable askutasquash, which meant “uncooked” or “eaten raw.” Since the Pilgrims had trouble pronouncing this word, they shortened it. The early colonists originally considered the vegetable to be a rather bland food, but once the Native Americans saved the Pilgrims from starving by teaching them how to cultivate it, squash gained new respect. This is why Americans traditionally finish their Thanksgiving feasts with a slice or two of pumpkin pie.

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Discussion Comments


I like boiling yellow squash in salted water with a little bit of basil. When it comes to squash, I like to go light on seasoning so that I can taste the vegetable.

My husband, however, refused to eat my squash. He has something against any vegetable that is squishy. He also refuses to eat boiled okra.

I would like to trick him into eating it, but I don't know of any way to make squash “unsquishy.” Can anyone help me out with this?


Butternut squash soup is pretty good. I had it at a restaurant once, and I liked the slightly sweet flavor. It had an interesting color, too.

Still, summer squash has got to be my favorite. My mother likes to fry it with a bit of cornmeal and bacon. It's such a rich flavor, even though I know it makes the squash an unhealthy dish!


@seag47 – Last summer, I grew giant zucchini that were as big as my forearm, so I came up with plenty of ways to cook them. My favorite is in chicken tortilla soup.

I start with chicken broth and add garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin. Then, I add black beans, corn, and zucchini. Finally, I put in a can of cooked chicken and a cup of mild salsa and boil it all until the zucchini is tender.

My other favorite way to cook zucchini is in a steamer. I don't even add any seasoning.

I love the simple taste of its purity, and I also love feeling so healthy while eating it without any salt or oil. It's great steamed with yellow squash, too.


I didn't know that zucchini was a type of squash! To me, they taste very different.

I love baking sliced zucchini with sliced potatoes. I cut them both into circles and season them with seasoning salt before baking.

When they start to turn golden brown on top and develop blisters, I know they are ready. The softness of the zucchini is a great contrast to the crispiness of the potato, and since both are seasoned the same, they go well together.

Does anyone else have any good zucchini recipes? I don't like frying vegetables in oil, so I prefer boiling, steaming, or baking recipes.


I always plant squash in my garden and we like both summer and winter squash. When the zucchini is ready I just slice it in the pan with some olive oil, season it, and have a healthy addition to any meal.

Later on in the season we enjoy butternut and acorn squash. I prefer the nutty taste of the butternut squash, but will eat all of them. I simply slice the squash in half and place them upside down on a pan and bake in the oven for about an hour.

I eat mine with just a little bit of salt added, but my husband likes some melted butter and brown sugar for a sweeter taste.


@Mykol-- I have never used squash seeds as a paste but I have roasted them just like I do pumpkin seeds. I don't notice much difference in the taste. If you like pumpkin seeds you will probably like the squash seeds too. Sometimes I have even combined the two of them together.

I always use salt but sometimes will sprinkle some garlic powder on them. These make a crunchy, healthy snack that even my kids love.


I never pass up a piece of pumpkin pie, but don't care for the taste of squash. Even when this is made with butter and brown sugar, I have never acquired a taste for it.

I don't know if it is a combination of the sugar and spices that are added to the pumpkin, but I think it has a naturally sweeter taste. Of course I usually top it off with some whipped cream and that may make a difference too.

I like to roast pumpkin seeds for a snack, but had never even thought about doing the same thing with squash seeds. Do these taste about the same as pumpkin seeds?


@SteamFinder-- I love to make spaghetti squash when it is in season. You can use this in a pasta dish in place of the spaghetti noodles. Once you add the sauce and seasonings, you don't notice much difference in the taste and it is much healthier.

After I bake the squash I just take a fork and scrape it off and it looks like spaghetti noodles. I have eaten it plain with a little bit of melted butter. Squash is one of those versatile vegetables that you can find many different ways to fix so you should never get bored with the taste of it.


A super-quick recipe that works for most kinds of squash is to simply slice them into thin rounds, less than a quarter of inch thick, then sauté them in olive oil in a very hot pan.

This is a really easy, healthy side dish that you can throw together last minute. Definitely one of my stand-bys.


My grandfather used to grow squash all the time and make little decorations out of them.

He used to dry them to make bowls, bottles, and even figurines sometimes.

His favorite was cucuzza squash, since it dried so well -- I know I still have some of his cucuzza squash drinking gourds around somewhere!


I really like all the different kinds of squash, but two of my favorite varieties are patty pan squash (or, as my son calls it, UFO squash) and spaghetti squash.

Both of them just look so fun, so it makes cooking them entertaining.

It is also a great way to get your kids to eat vegetables -- since squash usually doesn't have too strong of a taste, it is easy to slip it into a meal, especially if you use one of the "fun" varieties.

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    • Yellow crookneck squash is a summer squash.
      By: zigzagmtart
      Yellow crookneck squash is a summer squash.
    • Zucchini is a summer squash.
      By: andersphoto
      Zucchini is a summer squash.
    • Butternut squash is a winter squash.
      By: xiangdong Li
      Butternut squash is a winter squash.
    • The opo squash is can be identified by pale green or yellowing skin that is smooth to the touch.
      By: jiggo
      The opo squash is can be identified by pale green or yellowing skin that is smooth to the touch.