Butternut squash is one of those underrated food items. If we consider the wide varieties of ways and recipes in which the versatile fruit can be employed it does deserve more recognition. Instead, it exists in the shadows of its more illustrious cousins the pumpkins. Still, it is very popular and with good reason. Butternut squash can draw many different opinions on what exactly it tastes like and these will be heavily influenced by the recipes in use. Butternut pairs well with milk, cinnamon, chilli, curry, sugar and so many other flavours out there.
Butternut squash, known in some places as butternut pumpkin or just butternut is a member of the pumpkin family. It is a fruit that grows on a vine plant like its kin pumpkins and cucumbers. The fruit is pear-shaped though a bit more elongated than a pear. It has a deep orange colour on the outside and a slightly brighter orange colour on the inside. It has a strong outer skin that can easily be peeled away though the cooked skin of the butternut squash is edible. It is a very versatile food item which can be steamed, boiled, souped, stewed, grilled, fried, roasted or mashed. It lends itself well to many different flavours and can be paired with sweet, savoury, spicy or neutral flavours. While gourds and similar fruits date back very far the earliest documented records of the butternut squash date to only the 1940s. It’s possible it existed before then but simply wasn’t popular.
The first thing most people will say when asked about the taste of butternut squash is that it is sweet. What’s surprising is that butternut squash only has 2.2 grams of sugar per 100 grams. While many people will add sugar to butternut it rarely requires any assistance if what you desire is a sweet flavour. Their sweetness can be experienced up close when they are steamed or mashed with nothing else added to them. In savoury recipes, their sweetness still comes through though it is likely to be played down a bit. When grilled or roasted their sweetness is at its peak. Same goes for fried butternut squash which also concentrates the sweetness of the flesh.
In some cases, people may describe the flavour as nutty. This goes some way to explain the name butternut. They do possess a very rich thick flavour which can somewhat be likened to butter particularly when they are in recipes that combine them with something like milk or cream. The nutty flavour is not outright and strong like the most nuts. They have a mild nutty flavour that could perhaps be likened to a faint version of the flavour of almonds. So the name butternut is appropriate if not perfect. So yes you will get some people saying there is a light nutty flavour to the orange flesh of butternut. Of all the flavours experienced when eating butternut, this is probably the most downplayed of them all.
If you’re looking for something with similar taste and texture the sweet potato root tuber is the closest match you can get. Butternut squash has a similar taste to the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes which are sometimes mistakenly called yams. Of all the sweet potato varieties these have the least sweet flavour and instead are more versatile in flavour. They can be combined with sweet recipes just as well as savoury recipes. Perhaps its a bit ironic that the two share the same colour, in flesh and sometimes the outer skin of the sweet potato is orange too. Whether cooked alone or in combination with other ingredients these two are very hard to tell apart. This is also slightly complicated by the texture similarities though the cooked butternut is a little tougher than the sweet potato.
Another flavour that you can relate to the butternut squash is that of butterscotch. As mentioned before butternut is rich, nutty and sweet. Nothing else captures those three flavours as well as butterscotch. Those three elements of the butternut squash are what makes it work so well with other sweet ingredients. For example, you can pair mashed butternut with cream or syrup and it will blend very well. It also just happens to be smooth like butterscotch so you will not experience an overwhelm of flavour even though it is very sweet.
If you want to understand the texture of butternut squash the first point would be that the flesh is very moist. However uncooked butternut squash whilst being moist is nowhere near soft. In terms of just how moist it is the best comparison is probably with the Irish potato. The flesh can be easily cut while it is uncooked. The butternut squash has between 82 and 88 grams of water for every 100 grams of squash. Very similar to the 83 grams of water per 100 grams for raw Irish potatoes. Butternut squash retains its moisture when grilled or roasted, they do not give off a lot of water in the cooking process like potatoes.
Another texture point for the butternut squash is how soft they become in the cooking process. With a hardness that sits somewhere between Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes when raw the butternut squash holds up better in cooking than the other two but does become very soft when cooked. It makes butternut squash very easy to mash and work with in its cooked form.
The taste of butternut squash is best described as sweet, rich and mildly nutty. The food item that has the most similar taste is orange sweet potatoes. Another flavour that is similar to butternut is the rich creamy smooth flavour of butterscotch.