The Squash Variety You Should Try If You Love Mashed Potatoes

Options abound for diners looking to swap out an old favorite food with a new alternative. Whether you're looking to stick with a particular diet, improve nutritional content, or update flavor profiles on overserved menu items, there's a substitute to please every palate.

Alternative foods and beverages that offer familiar yet unique tastes and textures are popular. Cauliflower has had a major moment that nobody saw coming, stepping in for rice, pizza, and breadcrumbs. Few knew that nuts and grains could make milk, but baristas everywhere are fluent in a deluge of dairy alternates. Mushrooms have taken on beef's shape, flavor, and texture to help hesitant meat-eaters ease into a plant-based diet. Aquafaba, the liquid from a can of chickpeas, is whipping up vegan meringue like it's no big deal. Ingredient swaps are everywhere, bringing variety to the table.

A decades-long increase in limited-ingredient diets and plant-based eating likely kicked off the food swap frenzy. However, what started as a nutritional necessity has gained a following because of flavor. If you're moderating starchy carbs or have a nightshade sensitivity, you know what it is to hate how much you love mashed potatoes. A new spud substitute on the table offers all the creamy goodness and delicate flavor of its potato counterpart: the white acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo).

What is white acorn squash?

The produce department acts as a food almanac, featuring fruits and vegetables as they reach peak flavors depending on the season. Pumpkins, butternut, and spaghetti squash start appearing in the fall, dominating the gourd section at the local market throughout the winter months. The white acorn squash is a lesser-known variety stealing the limelight from its more familiar cousins with its signature taste and texture.

Hailing from the Cucurbitaceae family alongside pumpkins and zucchini, the white acorn squash is a winter gourd with a hard white rind. Although botanically classified as a fruit because of its seed content and growth from the flower of its vine, white acorn squash is used as a starchy vegetable in the kitchen. Its interior is heavily seeded in the center and surrounded by white flesh tinged with a pale yellow hue.

Native Americans began cultivating green acorn squash over 8,000 years ago, and its popularity spread from Central America across the continent. The green gourd's younger, white-rind counterpart didn't hit the produce scene until 1980 when it was created by heirloom seed collector and plant breeder Glenn Drowns. The white acorn squash is also gaining popularity for its flavor and texture as it becomes more readily available in stores and markets.

White acorn squash vs. potatoes

White acorn squash has a flavor so comparable to a potato that it has been dubbed the mashed potato squash. The taste of this mild gourd strikes a balance between a sweet potato and a russet with a hint of flavor and texture similar to a Yukon gold potato.

White acorn squash and potatoes offer a healthy variety of vitamins and minerals, but some key nutritional differences exist. Carb-counters will be happy to learn that winter squash has about half the amount of carbohydrates compared to potatoes, far fewer calories, and is lower on the glycemic index. White acorn squash is also loaded with fiber to help your body process carbohydrates in a healthier manner.

Depending on your diet goals, white acorn squash makes for an ideal potato substitute if you want to enjoy a moderate amount of carbs that won't spike your sugar intake. Folks who love potatoes but don't do well with nightshades can also enjoy this mashed potato substitute without unwanted side effects.

What does white acorn squash taste like?

The white acorn squash is a versatile veggie with a delicate taste and fork-tender texture with subtle flavors. It's a small winter gourd with a thick, white exterior skin featuring long ridges similar to an acorn. The rind is edible after being cooked and adds texture and nutrients to a squash dish, but it doesn't add much flavor and is usually discarded. The spongy, moist interior of the squash has minimal flavor in its raw state.

Once cooked, the tender flesh of the white acorn squash develops a soft, starchy texture with nutty undertones and a hint of sweetness. Muted notes of black pepper come forward and are balanced by the essence of rich brown butter.

The white acorn variety is far milder and less sweet than other gourds, like green acorn or butternut squash. It has an airier texture with less moisture than its denser counterparts. The white acorn squash is a delicate blank canvas of subtle flavors and starchy textures.

How to cook with white acorn squash

The mild flavors of the white acorn squash allow you to get creative in the kitchen. After removing the seeds and roasting them for a tasty snack or garnish, the flesh can be roasted, grilled, broiled, and baked. Once cooked, flavor-enhancing options abound, and cooks can suit their fancy by going sweet or savory.

Its mild sweetness is enhanced by roasting it with a drizzle of maple syrup or a sprinkle of brown sugar. The creamy squash can be scooped from its rind and sub for sweet potatoes in a pie or baked into bread and muffins to add moisture and flavor. White acorn squash plays well with sweet ingredients like honey, apples, and cinnamon.

The white acorn squash is a solid medium for savory flavors. It's a mashed potato mimic that tastes equally decadent when combined with cream, butter, garlic, and Parmesan but has fewer carbs and calories. It mashes effortlessly and lends itself to savory soups or risottos, boosting robust ingredients with its delicate taste and velvety texture. 

The exterior shell is edible once cooked and can be included for extra structure, nutrients, and texture if it suits your dish. There's no need to discard the rind when you can enjoy stuffed acorn squash with bread bowl energy or pile on your favorite fixings for a loaded baked potato dupe. Whatever flavor craving hits, the white acorn squash is versatile enough to satisfy.

Buy it, grow it, store it

Changing seasons are marked by new produce options at the grocery store, and you can buy winter squash like white acorn from early fall through the winter months, depending on where you live. Although white acorn squash is a fairly new varietal, it is popping up at more local grocers and can often be found at a farmer's market or specialty produce store. Look for a hefty yet smaller-sized squash with a blemish-free rind.

If you can't find it, grow white acorn squash from seeds or seedlings that can be purchased at your local supply store or ordered online. Squash is ideally planted a couple of weeks after the last frost in a spot with a good amount of sunshine and well-draining soil. White acorn squash grows on a trailing vine throughout the summer and is harvested in early fall when the skin hardens, and the stem begins to brown. If you have minimal space, white acorn squash can be grown on a trellis.

Once harvested or purchased at the market, check your squash for small blemishes and an intact stem that ensures a longer shelf life. Slightly blemished or stemless squash should be eaten quickly, but an undamaged gourd with its stem intact will keep on the countertop for several months. That long shelf life allows you time to think up all the delicious ways to enjoy a white acorn squash.

Nutritional information about white acorn squash

Whether it's a featured ingredient or a substitute, white acorn squash brings some delicious health benefits to the table. On top of tasting good, this gourd is loaded with antioxidants that can assist the body in fighting off diseases and issues like arthritis, high blood pressure, and some cancers.

Acorn squash is a tasty source of vitamins and minerals, with an ideal ratio of vitamins to calories. It's rich in magnesium, folate, and especially vitamin A, which boosts eye health and may reduce skin cancer. The carotenoids in acorn squash may lessen the risk of cardiovascular disease and benefit the body when gained from a food source over a supplement.

White acorn squash is also a great source of dietary fiber, the roughage that aids in digestion and healthy metabolization of food. Although white acorn squash is a starchier food than other vegetables like broccoli or greens, it does have about half the carbs of potato, which is a good option for folks who moderate their carbohydrates.