Portland Press Herald / Contributor

It's time to learn the difference between the sweet squash you can mash into a pie, and the ornamental ones you can leave on your doorstep. 

Arielle Weg
September 20, 2017

It seems like every year there are more and more varieties of squash at the market, yet every recipe calls for the same kinds. With a simple Google search, you can find thousands of recipes tossing acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, and spaghetti squash into everything from brownies and soups to pies and curries. 

So what's the deal with all of the other squash placed in crates around your local grocery store and farmers' market? It turns out, there are actually 700 species of squash all under the plant family Cucurbitaceae. Most varieties termed squash are edible — pumpkins are simply an orange squash, and gourds or ornamental squash are for decoration. But those are just common terms we use day to day. To a farmer, pumpkin, squash, and gourd don't really have any differences. 

The next time you're at the market and want to experiment with a new kind of squash, check this list for our favorite lesser-known varieties to mix into all your favorite fall dishes. 

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Delicata 

The delicata squash is strikingly similar to a large zucchini. The skin is edible and has a bright yellow color with long stripes down the side. Because the skin is thin, delicata squash will typically last for a shorter period of time, like summer squash. The flesh is sweet and nutty, with a flavor reminiscent of corn and sweet potato. Choose a squash that's heavy for its size and blemish-free. 

Try a delicata recipe: Roasted Red Onions and Delicata Squash

Detroit Free Press / Contributor

Hubbard 

The tough skin masks a super sweet, golden yellow interior that's perfect for a pie, puree, mash, or cake. The bumpy skin is typically a hazy blue or bright orange and the variety is the largest among edible squash, other than the field pumpkin. Unless you buy directly from a farmer, you can typically find this variety pre-cut because of its size. Easily substitute this pumpkin-like squash in any recipe calling for a winter squash. 

Try a hubbard recipe: Hubbard Squash and Pinto Bean Stew

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Kabocha 

Essentially a Japanese pumpkin, the kabocha squash gained a lot of attention last year from food and health brands. The flesh is very sweet — similar to a pumpkin or sweet potato — and the texture is velvety and creamy. The flavors are perfect for soups and purees, and add a richness that can't be beat. The variety has undertones similar to a chestnut, making it the ultimate fall ingredient. 

Try a kabocha recipe: Roasted Kabocha and Kale salad

Photo: Iain Bagwell

Cinderella 

When you see this squash, you'll understand why it's named after Cinderella. The fairytale-shaped produce is perfect for pies and canning. Sometimes called a cheese pumpkin, the flesh is sweet and also great for roasting whole. 

Try a Cinderella squash recipe: Whole Stuffed Roasted Pumpkin

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Green Striped Cushaw 

What looks like a green and white butternut squash turns into a fantastic pumpkin pie filling. The light yellow flesh is just slightly sweet and is delicious in any winter squash dish. 

Try a green striped cushaw recipe: Spiced Cushaw Pudding

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Turks Turban

The gorgeous colors make this variety perfect for decorating, but don't be fooled. Hiding underneath the stunning colors is a nutty and pumpkin-like meat that's perfect in place of steamed or roasted winter squash. Once you've scooped out the inside, don't toss the beautiful exterior. It makes for a professional soup tureen to serve up your perfect squash treat. 

ullstein bild / Contributor

Hokkaido

Also known as the Australian Blue Pumpkin, this variety has either a blue or bright orange outside to reveal a super bright orange interior. It's quite nutty, with a subtle sweetness that's perfect for simply roasting and baking. 

Try a hokkaido squash recipe: Pumpkin Seed Condiment 

Chicago Tribune / Contributor

Carnival

A cross between an acorn squash and a sweet dumpling squash, this gorgeous little veg is fantastic in baked goods and soups. The multicolored skin is pale yellow with green and orange stripes, and has a yellow flesh reminiscent of a sweet potato. It's delicious in soups, or simply roasted. 

The Washington Post / Contributor

Peanut Pumpkin

There's so much sugar in these delicious pumpkins that it causes the skin to grow peanut-shaped warts — hence the name peanut pumpkin. This variety holds up great in the oven, so try the super sweet flesh in baked goods and breads. 

Portland Press Herald / Contributor

Buttercup Squash

No, this isn't a butterNUT squash, but a butterCUP squash, and it's just as delicious. The dark green rind needs to be removed, but it reveals a bright orange, creamy interior that's considered the sweetest of squash. This variety is so sweet it can actually be used like a sweet potato. It's perfect mashed, pureed, steamed, or as a sweet potato replacement in most recipes. 

Try a buttercup squash recipe: Winter Squash Risotto with Radicchio 

Next time you hit the local market, you'll feel equipped to go outside your comfort zone. Swap in any of these new types of squash for a flavor-enhanced winter squash dish you'll love throughout the chilly months.