Kabocha squash (or Japanese pumpkin) is a delicious and highly nutritious winter squash used in sweet and savory dishes. Learn about its health benefits, storage, and recipes to incorporate this amazingly versatile fruit into your diet.
Kabocha (かぼちゃ, 南瓜), or Japanese pumpkin in English, is a type of Japanese winter squash of the species Cucurbita maxima. Known for its versatility and signature sweet flavors, kabocha has become a popular squash variety in the U.S.
It has long been a staple of Japanese cuisine, especially during the wintertime, where there is a tradition of eating kabocha to stay strong and bring good luck during the winter solstice.
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What is Kabocha Squash
Kabocha squash is round and stout, considered small to medium in size, averaging from 1.5 to 5 pounds. It has a dark green rind and yellow to bright orange flesh, although there are varieties with different colored skin and flesh.
Kabocha was first grown in South America and brought over to Japan via Cambodia by Portuguese merchants in the mid-16th century. There are several theories about its name, but one is that it originated from the word Cambodia, and was thus called Kanbojiya uri (カンボジア瓜, “Cambodian melon”), which over time, morphed into “kabocha.” The Chinese character for kabocha is “southern melon,” a reference to the Portuguese and Spanish merchants, who were called Nanban 南蛮 (“southern barbarians”) by the Japanese.
There are endless ways to cook and enjoy kabocha, as it is excellent in soups, stews, curries, stir-fries, tempura, and even desserts. You can also roast it in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
The squash is in season from late summer and starts peaking in early fall. It’s associated with the autumn season in Japan, where you’ll find lots of kabocha desserts and dishes featured this time of year.
What Does A Kabocha Taste
It has an outstanding sweetness and tender texture compared to many other squashes. The rich flavor is similar to sweet potatoes and pumpkin combined with a hint of roasted chestnut.
There’s a diverse variety of Kabocha squash. The most common type in the U.S. is kuri kabocha (栗かぼちゃ). Others include Sunshine, Cutie, Ajihei, Miyako, Ebisu, and red kuri squash/Hokkaido pumpkin. Each type offers slight differences in color, texture, and taste, but you can use them interchangeably.
How To Use
Kabocha is notorious for its tough rind. You need a large sharp knife and arm strength to cut the squash. Once it’s cut, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp with a spoon.
To learn how to cut kabocha without breaking a sweat, I’ve shared some essential tips with a step-by-step video tutorial in this post.
Once you break it down, you can cut it into slices, wedges, or chunks for easy cooking. While many squash varieties have a tough, thick, and inedible rind, the rind of a kabocha softens once cooked.
Recipes Using Kabocha Squash
Where To Buy
Due to its rising popularity, you might find kabocha squash at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. If not, you will find it at Asian and Japanese grocery stores.
How To Pick The Best
Look for the one that feels dense and has hard, knobby dark green skin. The squash should feel firm, and the stem should look intact and fresh. Avoid ones with indentations or soft spots.
If buying cut kabocha, select the ones with fresh-looking orange flesh.
How To Store
Store the whole uncut squash in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1-2 months. Toss it if the rind becomes squishy or moldy.
Store cooked or uncooked kabocha in an airtight container in the fridge. Use within a few days as it goes bad quickly.
Health Benefits Of Kabocha Squash
The Japanese much love kabocha squash, not just for its flavor but also for its numerous health benefits. It is one of those vegetables Japanese moms tell their kids to eat for good nutrition. Here are just some of the health benefits:
- An excellent source of beta-carotene (vitamin A), which is great for immunity, skin, hair, and eyes.
- Holds relatively higher amounts of vitamin C and B, thiamin, iron, and potassium than pumpkin.
- Has just a fraction of calories and carbs compared to other squash varieties.
- High in dietary fiber and protein, and can help keep you feeling full for longer.
- Has a low glycemic index, which means it helps improve blood sugar levels and is suitable for those with diabetes.
Substitutes For Kabocha
Depending on the recipe, you can use sweet potato, acorn squash, or butternut squash to substitute for kabocha. Likewise, you can switch it for recipes that call for other varieties of squashes.