Kabocha squash is gaining popularity and should be the next food added to your diet. Many farmers’ markets and grocery stores now carry the grayish-green squash shaped liked a squished pumpkin due to consumer demand.
Where Did Kabocha Squash Come From?
Although many squashes including kabocha originated in the Americas, kabocha is actually very popular in Japan. It’s believed the Portuguese brought it back from Brazil and then traded it to Cambodia, who then introduced it to Japan. In fact, the word kabocha is said to be a cross between the word “Cambodia” and “abobora,” the Portuguese word for pumpkin. The Japanese use kabocha in soups, sushi and tempura dishes. (WorldCrops.org).
The Japanese are not the only culture that has capitalized on the kabocha’s desirable qualities. Latin American communities in the US, including Puerto Rican and Dominican consumers, use kabocha to replace pumpkin or “calabaza.” The value is in the smaller size of the kabocha. Since only a little bit of squash is needed as a mix-in for rice and bean dishes, pumpkin often leaves waste, whereas the smaller kabocha provides just the right amount of squash for a family dinner. (WorldCrops.org)
What Does Kabocha Squash Taste Like?
One of the reasons why kabocha squash has become so popular is the taste. Kabocha squash is sweeter than pumpkin and starchier than butternut squash. Because kabocha squash tastes like a sweet potato, it’s enjoyable on its own, whereas pumpkin is usually mixed into baked goods, beverages, or pancakes. And because it’s not as watery as butternut squash, kabocha squash doesn’t need to be pureed into a soup. Kabocha squash can be sliced in half or into crescents and roasted.
Kabocha squash can stand on its own without any additional flavors. However, it’s often served with maple syrup-based sauces, butter, olive oil, or earthy spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.
Nutritional Value of Kabocha Squash
Kabocha squash is relatively low in calories with about 35 calories for a 100g serving. It has 8g of carbohydrates. Kabocha offers 12% of the recommended daily value of both vitamin C and potassium. (USDA Food Data Central)
However, the most significant nutrient in kabocha is vitamin A – providing more than 130% of the RDA in a 100g serving. Vitamin A supports eye health by promoting night vision, and may help reduce the progression of age-related macular degeneration.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “People who eat a lot of foods containing vitamin A or beta-carotene might have a lower risk of certain kinds of cancer. But studies do not show that vitamin A or beta-carotene supplements help prevent cancer or lower the chances of dying of cancer. In fact, some studies find that in people who smoke or used to smoke, high doses of beta-carotene supplements can increase the risk of lung cancer and death.”
Bottom line: Vitamins and minerals from food are more bioavailable and beneficial to people than supplements. Kabocha squash, along with carrots and sweet potatoes, are excellent sources of vitamin A.
How to Use Kabocha Squash
Aside from the taste, texture, and nutritional value of kabocha squash, the versatility of the fruit is another reason to add it to your diet. Kabocha squash can be easily sliced and roasted in under 40 minutes and eaten plain.
Or, a sauce can be added to create an exciting side dish. As mentioned above, Asian cultures use it in tempura, sushi, and soups, while Latinx cultures use it in rice and bean dishes.
Other ways to use kabocha squash include adding a mashed or pureed version to mac & cheese.
Other suggestions for kabocha squash include:
Add chunks of kabocha as an ingredient to a Buddha bowl
Add warm kabocha to fall and winter salads
Serve mashed kabocha in place of mashed potatoes with a little butter
Swap out sweet potatoes to create a kabocha casserole with cinnamon
If you’re interested in getting more vitamin A into your diet in a new and delicious way, below is an easy recipe for Kabocha Squash with Sweet Sauce which was adapted from Justin Sullivan’s recipe.
Kabocha Squash with Sweet Sauce
Prep Time: 10 mins.
Cook Time: 30 mins.
Total Time: 40 mins.
Yield: 4 servings
1 kabocha squash
2 Tbsp oil (canola or olive oil)
3 Tbsp butter or plant-based butter spread (for reduced saturated fat)
1 Tbsp liquid aminos (or soy sauce if gluten and soy are tolerated)
1.5 tsp maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper and set aside. (Or use a glass pan.)
Rinse the kabocha squash under running water and wipe off with a clean paper towel.
Cut the kabocha squash by slicing just under the stem to remove the stem. This provides a flat surface to lay the squash on to cut it safely without the squash rolling. Lay the squash on the flat end and next, cut the squash in half from top to bottom. You now have two halves.
Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and either discard or set aside for roasting.
Slice each half into 8 crescents and lay the 16 slices on the foil-lined pan and drizzle with oil. Cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender. (If using a glass pan, add some water and cover the pan with foil to create a steam bath.)
While the kabocha cooks, make the sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, turn the heat to low, whisk continuously and allow the butter to brown, but not burn. It should start to smell sweet after about 5 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and whisk in the liquid aminos (or soy sauce) and maple syrup until well combined.
Once the squash is finished roasting and tender, remove from oven and place squash on a platter. Drizzle the warm sauce over top and serve.
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