Butternut, acorn and other winter squashes are hearty and healthy, and perfect comfort foods for cold weather months. But these squashes can be a pain to prep. They have thick skins, irregular shapes and firm flesh, making them tough to peel and chop.
It’s definitely a lot easier to just leave the skin on — a common practice when you’re cooking squash to scoop out the flesh to eat. But is the skin actually safe to eat? And, beyond that, is it pleasant to eat?
Some well-known chefs are proponents of leaving the skins on winter squashes. Jamie Oliver, for example, advocates eating the skin of butternut squash.
“You can eat the skin, so there’s no need to peel it,” Oliver’s website says. “Simply halve it, scoop out the seeds and chop it into chunks, then roast it and add it to a warm winter salad or throw it into curries, stews or soups. You can also roast the seeds and eat them as a snack or sprinkled over a finished dish.”
Others say the tough skin of most winter squashes isn’t very palatable.
“I’m always in the camp of using the whole product when possible, and squashes can be great for this,” Colin Mills, senior recipe developer at HelloFresh, told HuffPost. “There is a big difference, though, between edible and tasty when it comes to squash skin. For those you should eat, it can provide a huge nutritional boost of fiber and vitamin A.”
So, which winter squash skin can you eat? We asked chiefs to weigh in.
Is winter squash skin safe to eat?
All winter squash skin is technically edible (and when we refer to winter squash, we’re contrasting it to soft summer squashes, like yellow squash and zucchini).
“All the skins are just fiber and completely safe to eat,” said Ann Ziata, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. “The skin can look pretty while adding color and texture to a dish. You’ll also save a lot of time by skipping all that pesky peeling.”
Squashes with deep orange or yellow flesh, skin and all, offer numerous health benefits. They are great sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, protein, fiber, magnesium, and potassium, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Is winter squash skin palatable?
Whether you’ll enjoy eating the skin depends on the type of squash and how thick the skin is, Ziata said. Some are better prepared when peeled.
“The thicker the skin, the greater the chance it will remain tough to chew, even after it’s cooked,” said Isaac Toups, owner of Toups’ Meatery in New Orleans and developer of the spice line Spiceology. “But, if you treat them just right, you can get them crispy and tasty, even the thicker skins.”
It’s ultimately a personal choice, and it depends on which type of squash you’re cooking.
“If the squash or pumpkins are young, then most of the skins will be” palatable, Toups said. “I take them on a case-by-case basis. I’ll roast one up. If the skin is tasty and not chewy, then, and only then, will I leave it in the dish.”
This is what chefs have to say about eating the skin of these popular varieties:
It’s common to leave the skin on butternut squash while it cooks, especially if you’re halving it, roasting it and scooping out the flesh for a soup or sauce (in which case you’re not actually eating the skin). But if the squash has a thick skin, Ziata said it might be unpleasant to eat. So, if you’re dicing it for a dish, it might be best to peel it.
Beloved for its stringy flesh, spaghetti squash can be a sub for pasta, Toups said. It’s often halved and cooked with the skin on, so you can easily fork out the stringy flesh. But eating the skin is best avoided. When cooked, the skin becomes papery, sometimes described as eggshell-like, and unpleasant to eat.
Featuring deep ridges, acorn squash can be one of the toughest varieties to peel. Luckily, most chefs agree that you can leave the skin on and eat it. The skin of acorn squash softens as it cooks, and it’s one that Mills recommends eating. If you’d rather not, you can always peel it off after it cooks.
“I’ve never peeled a delicata — the skin is thin and tasty, so there’s no reason,” Toups said. The oblong, striped squash has thin, delicate skin that becomes tender as it cooks and often takes on a chewy texture.
Kabocha is a round squash with dark green skin, which Ziata said is “beautiful and delicious with the skin on.” But, others, like Mills, suggest removing the skin. “It’s not going to be as tasty or add as much value to a dish,” he said.
How to eat the skin, if you really want to
Any time you plan to eat the skin of squash, buy organic and wash it well, Ziata said.
To make the skin as tender as possible and more palatable, she recommends cutting the squash into bite-sized pieces, roasting or steaming it, and serving it with a glaze or sauce. Or, cook it in a soup or stew.
While Mills only recommends eating the skin of delicata, honeynut and acorn squashes, he said roasting them is the best approach. Halve the squash, remove the seeds, and cut into about one-inch slices. Toss the slices with neutral cooking oil, salt, pepper and your favorite fall spices — Mills likes garlic powder, cinnamon, clove, ginger, smoked paprika and mustard powder.
Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for about 20 minutes at 425 F, flipping halfway. Serve right out of the oven just as they are or with thyme-maple butter.
“This will transform these rock-like vegetables into tender, golden-brown pieces full of fall flavor,” Mills said.