The Skinny on Summer Squash

- Mel Weinstein

The end of summer and the beginning of fall brings a variety of sturdy and colorful squashes.  These plants are native to North America with evidence that indigenous people were eating them around 7,500 years ago, but nowadays they are grown all over the world.  Note that the explorers, Lewis and Clark, were introduced to summer squash in 1804 by the Arikara tribe (present day North Dakota).  Most of us think of these foods as vegetables, but botanically, they are best described as fruits, since the pulp contains seeds.  Squashes are generally divided into two groups:  Summer Squash and Winter Squash.  Here are some differences:

  • Summer squashes, like zucchini and crookneck, have thin, edible skins, the seeds are soft, and can be eaten whole; winter squashes, like pumpkin and butternut, have more robust skins, usually the seeds are removed before eating, and it’s not advisable to eat the whole plant.

  • Summer squashes have high water content and their flavor is sweet and mild; winter squashes have harder flesh and longer shelf lives.

  • Summer squashes require very little cooking; winter squashes need longer cooking times.

Here’s some additional info about summer squashes.  All the squashes belong to the genetic family called cucurbita, but all the summer squashes fall into the subgroup called cucurbita pepo.  In addition to the ones mentioned earlier, straightneck and scallop (pattypan) are popular varieties.    


What do with a summer squash after you buy it?  First of all, if you’re not planning on preparing it right away, it’s best to store it in a fridge crisper.  If you search online for zucchini, you’ll find thousands of recipes online including stuffed zucchini, appetizers, cookies, cakes, breads, soups, breaded & fried, pickled, fritters, spiralized (spaghetti-style), and casseroles.  I personally find zucchini bread a treat to die for.  (See recipe at end of article.)  In general, when cooking summer squash, the seeds can be scooped out or left in.  To remove excess water, the squash should be salted ahead of time.  Here’s one method:  Slice the squash, lay the slices in a bowl, and salt each layer lightly.  Place something heavy on top of them to squeeze out fluid, cover with plastic wrap, and leave them in the fridge for a while or overnight.  Pour off the excess water before continuing with the prep.  Various cooking techniques can be used including stir-frying, grilling, sauteing, steaming, baking, or deep-frying. 


Let’s talk nutrition.  Summer squash is packed with nutrients, including Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, beta-carotene, other antioxidants, as well as a decent amount of dietary fiber.  You could eat summer squash all day and not have to worry about calorie intake.  Each cup of squash has only about 20 calories!  Some extraordinary health claims are made for summer squash consumption, but they’re not always backed up by peer reviewed research.  Some of them are: (1) promotes heart health, (2) improves digestion, (3) protects against asthma, (4) strengthens bones, (5) helps with weight loss, (6) supports eye health, and (7) controls diabetes.  Check them out for yourself.


The United States Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Base (a great online resource!), provides the following breakdown for raw scallop summer squash.  Note the low amount of fat.  There’s not much protein, but there’s some.  All plant foods provide protein, but, obviously, some offer more than others.  Check out the Vitamin C contribution … 30% of the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA)!  To maximize the fiber amount, leave the skin on, and, of course, to avoid agricultural toxins, buy organic.  Eat squash … it’s good for you. 



Zucchini Bread Recipe

(Plant-based, low oil, low sugar)




¼ cup           Bananas, mashed

1 cup             Zucchini, grated

¼ cup           Grape Juice, frozen concentrate

1 Tbsp           Lemon Juice

1 Tsp              Vanilla Extract

2 cups           Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

½ tsp             Baking Soda

2 tsp              Baking Powder

1 tsp               Lemon Zest

2 tsp               Cinnamon, ground

½ cup            Raisins


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the banana, zucchini, grape juice, lemon juice, and vanilla.  Blend well.  In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix thoroughly.  Pour the batter into a nonstick 8 x 4” loaf pan and bake for 1¼ hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes.  Gently loosen the sides with a spatula, invert, and remove bread from the pan.  Cool on a wire rack.




Bio: After previously living in Urbana, I now live in Decatur as a retiree.  I’ve been a coop owner since about 1995.  I’ve had a long interest in healthy eating, particularly in a whole-foods plant-based diet.  I’ve maintained a vegan lifestyle since 2005.  My interest in food extends from trying new fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains to ethnic food preparation to educating people about commercial food ingredients through the Food Labels Revealed podcast that I host.  Common Ground provides many options for plant-based eaters, including a variety of natural produce, often locally sourced and organic.