Japan's Red Kuri Squash Adds Nutty Flavor To Winter Meals

Nature provides perfectly in accordance with the seasons: winter squashes are more flavorful and denser, which helps you feel full and satisfied on colder days, and even the seeds can be roasted over a fire for an additional fiber and good-for-you fats boost, per Eating Well. There are a wide variety of winter squashes that exist as well, and beyond simply roasting squashes they can be used for savory winter pies and casseroles.

All winter squashes are harvested in the fall, but keep well through winter, hence the name, and provide a full punch of vitamins A, B6, C, E, magnesium, potassium, and manganese in a colorful orange and yellow package, per Epicurious. You may be familiar with the popular butternut squash, but there are a few other lesser-known squashes out there that are well worth trying. One of them is the Japanese red kuri squash, which comes in a shape that most other squashes do not.

History of red kuri squash

According to Speciality Produce, the red kuri squash is native to the island country of Japan and hails from Hokkaido, where it was first grown in the 1920s. Most believe that the squash is a descendant variant of the hubbard squash which arrived in Japan around four decades earlier in 1878, when the country began engaging in international trade. Hubbard squash, which comes from South America or the West Indies, is much larger, and is named for Elizabeth Hubbard, a woman that gave the seeds to a neighboring man who introduced the seeds into the trade market (via Gardening Know How).

However, while hubbard squash can reach up to 50 pounds in weight, the red kuri squash was intentionally bred to be smaller in size, growing to be around three to seven pounds, and has thinner skin and a richer, nuttier flavor. The flesh inside is also orange and smooth, a great texture for blending or roasting.

Characteristics of the red kuri squash and other names

The red kuri squash has many aliases: the scientific and botanical classification is the Cucurbita maxima, and in other parts around the world the squash also goes by the following names: climbing onion squash, Hokkaido squash, baby red hubbard, uchiki kuri squash, and potimarron.

In Japanese, kuri means chestnut, and the name is fitting for the small squash that has a taste that reminds tastebuds of cooked chestnuts (via AllRecipes). The teardrop-shaped squash grows to be about seven inches tall and wide and has slight ridges. But before you taste the red kuri squash, you'll recognize it immediately for its distinctive teardrop shape and bright orange to red outer skin, which is thin and edible once cooked. Note that the hard skin is rather difficult to peel, so the squash is most commonly cooked with the skin still on, and the seeds can be toasted or cooked just as you can with pumpkin seeds.

Where to buy and how to choose red kuri squash

When the leaves start turning golden orange and red, those fall colors are a signal that it's likely harvesting time for red kuri squash. During autumn and winter months, you'll probably be able to find red kuri squash at your local farmer's market (you can use this handy site to find the nearest farm to you).

To choose the best red kuri squash, its weight should weigh heavily in your decision: the heavier, the better, and ensure that there are no dents or soft spots. A firm exterior is best. If you want to grow your own red kuri squash, you can sow seeds as early as mid-March if you have a greenhouse, or in mid-May outside in the soil — just make sure that there will be no more frosts on the horizon (via Nature and Garden). Hotter climates are suitable for growing red kuri squash, and harvest should happen as soon as the leaves are dry and have turned yellow. Following harvest, the best part comes: eating red kuri squash.

Nutritional benefits of red kuri squash and how to prepar

Like many other winter squashes, the red kuri squash is chock full of health benefits: It contains fiber, vitamins A, C, and B, calcium, and potassium. Red kuri squash also provides an aesthetic benefit, too. According to Oh My Mag, red kuri squash is also prized for its ability to beautify our own outer layer and can be used in skin remedies, due to its healing and anti-inflammatory properties. In other cultures, red kuri squash has been turned into juice to ease headaches and the seeds were consumed to ward off worms.

To prepare your red kuri squash, you simply need to cut it up (don't peel the skin off) and then roast or use it in any preferred winter squash recipe — you can even use it as a replacement for sweet potato in a pinch, per New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Storage is easy, as red kuri squash will keep in cool and dry room temperatures for up to six months, and if you want to extend the life of your red kuri squash further, you can cook it until soft and then freeze until you need your next red kuri squash fix.