Kabocha (pronounced as ka-BOH-cha) is a type of sweet winter squash, a Japanese variety in the Cucurbitaceae family. While it looks like a smaller, wider version of pumpkin, it is known for its outstanding sweetness, rich texture, and flavor similar to sweet potato and roasted chestnut.
While commonly enjoyed in Japanese, Thai, and Korean cuisines, kabocha is now gaining wide popularity all over the world due to its exceptionally sweet flavor. Going further in this article, let’s get a better understanding of kabocha squash nutrition and health benefits along with a few special recipes.
What Is Kabocha?
Known as kabocha in Japanese, danhobak in Korean, and fak thong in Thai cuisine, this versatile winter squash can be used in a variety of sweet and savory preparations.
You can roast, steam, or fry kabocha to make tempuras, as it tends to retain its shape well. It can also be mashed or pureed nicely with a finely grained texture.
The tough green outer skin is also edible once cooked and is rich in dietary fiber (1). Kabocha is widely used in Japanese cuisine mainly stewed, stir-fried, simmered in dashi or soups, deep-fried into tempura, or in desserts.
Varieties Of Kabocha Squash
Kabocha squash was introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Portuguese sailors. In Japan, “kabocha” refers to a wide variety of pumpkins and winter squashes. In western countries and elsewhere, “kabocha” refers specifically to only the Japanese member of the Cucurbita maxima family. Kabocha squash may come in varying colors, and are named as:
- Sweet Mama – green kabocha
- Winter Sweet – gray kabocha
- Sunshine – red kabocha
Let’s now explore the nutrient content of kabocha squash.
Kabocha Squash Nutrition Facts
According to the USDA, 100g of kabocha squash can provide you with the following nutrients (1):
- Calories: 30
- Fat: 0g
- Protein: 1.1g
- Vitamin C: 9mg
- Sodium: 0mg
- Carbohydrates: 8.2g
- Fiber: 1.2g
- Sugars: 3.5g
Kabocha squash has a low-calorie count and is rich in vitamins A and C. It is also a good source of iron, magnesium, copper, B vitamins, dietary fiber, beta-carotene, and various other antioxidants.
Going further, let’s explore the health benefits of these nutrients offered by kabocha.
Kabocha Squash Health Benefits
Kabocha is low in calories and high in fiber and important vitamins. Let’s now understand how all this can help benefit our health.
- Lowers Cancer Risk
The cucurbitacins found in the winter squash and Cucurbitaceae family have also been found to be instrumental in preventing the development of certain cancers (2). Beta-carotene is a phytochemical found in kabocha squash. It gets converted to vitamin A in the body and might help prevent the risk of certain cancers (3). However, more human studies are warranted to establish the same. Vitamin C found in kabocha squash might also be helpful in preventing cancer (4).
- Supports Eye Health
Beta-carotene and vitamin C, found in kabocha have been shown to be effective in slowing down AMD (age-related macular degeneration) (1),(5). Additionally, people with a regular intake of vitamin C from food might have a low risk of developing cataracts in their eyes (6).
- May Help Skin Care
Kabocha squash may also help clear your complexion by reducing scars and blemishes. The beta-carotene and various other antioxidants found in kabocha help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the skin and prevent signs of aging (7), (8).
- Aids In Digestion
The dietary fiber in kabocha, especially in the outer edible rind can provide multiple digestive benefits. When cooked and consumed, the outer rind can potentially help improve digestion, regularize bowel movements, and reduce bloating and other symptoms of constipation (9).
Adverse Effects And Risk Of Kabocha Squash
Pumpkins, squashes, and other members of the Cucurbita family can produce certain toxic substances called cucurbitacins. These have a bitter taste and can cause severe diarrhea even when taken in small amounts (10).
An excessive intake of kabocha squash or any other fruit or vegetable containing beta carotene can develop a condition called carotenemia (11). This causes your skin to appear yellowish or orange in color. It’s harmless and can resolve on its own once you cut back on the intake of carotene-rich foods.
Winter squash or kabocha allergies are very rare and not commonly heard of. In case you suspect an allergic reaction after consuming kabocha, you should consult your doctor regarding the same.
Storage And Food Safety
Kabocha squash, being winter squash, is usually grown in the warm season and is available from October to January.
- When buying a kabocha, it is better to buy it from your local farmer’s market to avail it freshly harvested.
- Choose an average-sized kabocha with hard thick skins and dry and intact stems.
- You should avoid any kabocha with soft or rotten stems, soft blemished spots, cuts, or damage in other ways.
- Whole kabocha can be stored for 2-4 months at home in a cool and dry place.
- Cut portions of kabocha should be used as soon as feasible. They can otherwise be wrapped in plastic film or kept in a ziplock bag stored in the fridge for 1-2 days maximum before use.
- You can also keep cooked squash in the freezer, where it will last for up to a year.
Recipes, Preparation, And Serving Methods
Once you get a kabocha from the farmer’s market or your nearest supermarket, you need to wash and clean it nicely. Kabocha is known for its thick and sturdy outer skin that is tough to cut through. You might need a big vegetable knife and some arm pressure to cut it in half. You can further cut it into moon-shaped slices or cubes as per your recipe requirements. Below, we share a few popular recipes to spice up things for you.
1. Kabocha Shiratama Dango
- Shiratama (glutinous rice flour) – 3 tablespoons
- Kabocha (steamed, peeled, mashed) – 1 tablespoon
- Maple syrup – ½ teaspoon
- Water – to bind
- Take the mashed pumpkin paste, shiratama rice flour, and maple syrup in a bowl and combine well with just enough water to bind.
- Blend everything to form a dough about the size of a tennis ball.
- Break off small pieces and roll them into small balls with your hands.
- Bring a pot of water to boil and drop in the balls.
- They will float to the top once done.
- Leave them in there for one extra minute.
- Scoop the balls out and drop them into ice-cold water.
- Pat each of them dry and string in along the skewers.
- Top it with a sauce or sprinkle of your choice and enjoy.
You should have enough to make three skewers, each one having three dango.
2. Roasted Kabocha
- Kabocha squash (medium ) – 1 (2 ½ lb.)
- Extra-virgin olive oil – 1½ tablespoons.
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper (freshly ground) – as per taste
- Butter – 3 tablespoons
- Soy sauce (low-sodium ) – 1 tablespoon
- Maple syrup – 1½ teaspoons
- Preheat the oven to 400℉ and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Cut the squash in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds.
- Cut the half squash further into 1 ½” half-moon-shaped slices.
- Drizzle a little oil over them and season with salt and pepper.
- Toss the pieces nicely to coat evenly and line the slices in the baking sheet.
- Roast the squash slices for about 30 to 35 minutes, flipping sides halfway through, until they are tender and begin to brown.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
- Cook until the foam subsides.
- Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly until the butter smells like caramel.
- Remove the butter from heat immediately and add in the maple syrup and soy sauce.
- Stir until thoroughly combined and cooled slightly.
- Return the sauce over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more until it gets slightly thickened.
- Transfer the roasted squash pieces to a platter.
- Drizzle with the maple soy brown butter, serve and enjoy!
Along with the above, you can use kabocha in any recipe that calls for butternut, sweet pumpkin, or acorn. Below are a few more ways to include them in your diet and serve them differently.
- Kabocha can be used in sushi, soups, and tempura dishes.
- Raw kabocha can be grated and used in winter salads to add that bright orange tinge and sweet flavor.
- You can also cut and deseed the kabocha and stuff it with grains, bread, bacon, meat, mushrooms, cheese, or your favorite leafy greens, and bake in the oven.
- You can make kabocha squash gratin and enjoy it with sausage or vegetables.
- Mashed/pureed kabocha can be used as a healthy alternative to mashed potatoes.
- Baked and mashed/pureed kabocha flesh can be used as a filling for ravioli, empanadas, and enchiladas, or used in pies, puddings, bread, and desserts.
- Kabocha squash can be made into a delicious creamy soup as well.
- Roasted kabocha squash kernels can be eaten as a healthy snack anytime.
To Sum Up
Kabocha is a small, short Japanese winter squash that is known for its sweet nutty flavor. With an edible thick skin rich in fiber, and thick orange flesh inside, it can be used in a variety of culinary preparations. Rich in fiber, beta-carotene and other antioxidants, kabocha squash nutrition and health benefits are now gaining wide popularity all over the world. Commonly used in Asian cuisines, it is a versatile fruit that can be a healthy addition to soups, curries, snacks, porridge, and desserts as well.
Is kabocha high in carbs?
Even though it is naturally sweet, kabocha is actually low in carbs with about 8g of carbs per cup(1).
Is kabocha healthier than pumpkin?
Fresh kabocha squash is richer in protein, amino acids, vitamins, and lipid content when compared to pumpkin (8).
Is squash good for weight loss?
Kabocha is low in calories and high in dietary fats that help you feel full faster. It might make a good addition to weight loss diets in moderation since it also has a good amount of sugar (1).
Can diabetics eat squash?
Squash, especially kabocha, are low glycemic food. They help prevent sudden spikes in blood glucose levels and can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.
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- KABOCHA SQUASH
- Cucurbitacins – A Promising Target for Cancer Therapy
- Effectiveness of beta-carotene in cancer chemoprevention
- Vitamin C and cancer prevention: the epidemiologic evidence
- Vitamin C
- A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial of High-Dose Supplementation With Vitamins C and E Beta Carotene and Zinc for Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Vision Loss
- β-carotene in skin care
- Comparison of Nutritional Composition and Antioxidative Activity for Kabocha Squash and Pumpkin
- Constipation dietary fiber and the control of large bowel function
- Gourds and squashes (Cucurbita spp.) adapted to megafaunal extinction and ecological anachronism through domestication
- A review
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