Butternut, acorn, pumpkin, kabocha, buttercup, spaghetti, delicata, kuri, and more, oh my! Winter squash is abundant during fall and winter. Rich in Vitamin A (beta-carotene), Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, squash is one of the top anti-cancer foods to eat, not to mention it’s great for your skin and your heart. Winter squash is also one of the easiest winter produce items to prepare. All you need to do is roast it in the oven as you would other root vegetables and there you go! Quick, simple, and delicious!

Ripe squash tastes better and digests easier since some of the starches break down and become easier on your digestive system. But choosing a ripe winter squash is a bit hard to do if you’ve never done it before, considering squash doesn’t get brown spots or soften very easily like apples,pears, and bananas do.  Don’t worry though, there are some simple things to look for when choosing a ripe squash and some things to watch out for so you can avoid the bad ones of the bunch.

With these tips, you’ll be an expert in no time!

1. Pay Attention to Color

Squash doesn’t turn brown like bananas, but its color does change a bit once it starts to ripen. Look for a squash that has a matte, soft finish. It shouldn’t be spotted and shouldn’t appear shiny or waxy. Butternut, for example, should have no signs of green, while acorn should be mostly green with little to no orange. Once acorn squash turns orange, it’s past its prime and won’t taste the best. Delicata should remain yellow with even stripes and buttercup should be a bright orange color just like pumpkin. Kuri squash should have a slightly reddish tone while kabocha should be a mix between mostly green with slight hues of orange. Spaghetti squash should be bright yellow all over.

2. Pay Attention to the Stem

You’ll also want to look at the stem. If a squash is past its prime, the stem will pop off easily. Old squash may even harbor mold on the stem if you look carefully enough. If you see any of these signs, don’t risk it!

3. Test the Shell

Feel how hard the shell is on your squash. It should be very firm, giving no room for pressure at all. If you press on the squash and feel a soft spot, it’s bad and you’ll want to toss it out.

4. Make Sure It’s Heavy

A squash should be slightly heavy for its size when you pick it up. If it feels light, it’s either past its prime or it’s not ripe yet.

5. Tap on It

A ripe squash will sound hollow on the inside when you tap on it. An unripe squash or spoiled squash will not. If you’re at home, you can also place it in water. If it floats, toss it.

6. Time It

If you pick your squash fresh off a farm, ask the farmer(s) when it was picked. Squash takes 80-100 days to reach its ripeness, which is one reason it can sit on grocery store shelves and in your pantry so long without going bad. If you bring it home right after it’s picked, be sure you wait long enough for the squash to “do its thing”.

7. Consider Storage

If you’ve had the squash at home for a while and don’t know if you should eat it, consider how it’s been stored. Squash usually keeps very well in a cool, slightly dark place. However, some pantries that have no access to airflow may cause your squash to spoil more quickly. For this reason, I find leaving them on the counter in a dark, cool place or on an open pantry shelf both work nicely. A cold garage is another prime place to store a wooden bin with winter produce such as squash, potatoes, onions, and carrots during the winter season. If your squash is exposed to humidity at all, chances are it will spoil more quickly.

8. Open It

If you don’t like to roast your squash whole (which is easier in my book), then open it up by cutting it down the center with a knife. If the seeds look slimy or are an off-color, the squash has spoiled. If you cook it and slice it open and see the same thing, toss it. The seeds should be mostly white or cream-colored and should be covered in the squash flesh while the rest of the squash should be a bright color inside. If it’s dull at all in color, chances are, it’s not ripe yet or it’s already spoiled. If the squash gives off a strange odor, you’ll also want to toss it.

So let’s say you have a perfectly ripe squash and don’t know what to do with it. Now, what?

Make these awesome vegan squash recipes, that’s what!

Happy Squash Picking!

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