Fall is known for its bountiful harvest. And one of the season’s most popular crops, winter squash, is all set for gathering. These colorful, shapely fruits will decorate store shelves and dining tables in the months to come. But what are the differences between them? If you’re faced with the choice of butternut squash vs. acorn squash, what will you do? Are they worthy substitutes, or will picking one over the other send your diet—or even a tasty recipe—into a tailspin?
Butternut Squash vs. Acorn Squash: The Main Differences
Acorn squash and butternut squash, along with pumpkin and more, are part of the winter squash family. All of these plants, which are harvested in the fall and last through winter, represent species within the genus Cucurbita.
Acorn squash (Cucurbita pepo var. turbinate) is a small, dark-green squash. As the name suggests, it has an acorn-like shape and is marked with prominent ridges running from base to tip. Common varieties have a small showing of orange towards the top.
Butternut squash, Cucurbita moschata, looks much different. It has a light brown/beige color and unique shape, featuring a bulbous base and a long neck. Butternut is quite smooth to the touch and is much easier to cut and peel than acorn squash.
But what about taste?
Butternut squash has a sweet, nutty flavor, where acorn squash may be a little sweeter and slightly less nutty. Some may be unable to distinguish any subtle flavor differences.
Generally speaking, the two squash can be substituted for each other if you’re in a pinch. It’s best to stick to what the recipe calls for to achieve the desired result, but a substitute is unlikely to leave you scratching your head about what you’re eating.
Both butternut squash and acorn squash have a very long shelf life, so it is easy to keep a few on hand when needed.
Butternut Squash vs. Acorn Squash: The Nutrition Facts
Both varieties are dense sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that promote health, but there are some slight differences between the two.
Here is what you’ll get in one cup (205 grams [g]) of each cooked squash:
|Nutrient||Acorn Squash||Butternut Squash|
|Carbohydrates||30 g||22 g|
|Protein||2 g||2 g|
|Fiber||9 g||7 g|
|Vitamin A||18% daily value (DV)||457%|
|Vitamin C||37% DV||52%|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)||23% DV||10% DV|
|Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)||20% DV||13% DV|
|Vitamin B9 (folate)||10% DV||10% DV|
|Magnesium||22% DV||15% DV|
|Potassium||26% DV||17% DV|
|Manganese||25% DV||18% DV|
|Vitamin E||—||13% DV|
|Vitamin B3 (niacin)||—||10% DV|
You’ll also find some non-heme iron in winter squash as well.
As you can see, there is some variation in these two forms of winter squash, but not much. Notable differences are in vitamins A and B1 content, but it’s hard to say that one squash is healthier or more nutritious than the other. A stickler for nutrient targets may side with acorn, but among average people, who’s counting?
Butternut Squash and Acorn Squash Benefits
Both acorn squash and butternut squash are packed with nutrients that, when included in a healthy diet, may contribute to a host of benefits.
Winter squash is a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can contribute to a healthy digestive system. Acorn squash has a slight edge in fiber content.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stools to help clean out your intestines, and soluble fiber draws in water to soften the waste so it’s easier to pass.
Fiber also helps feed healthy gut bacteria, which may help strengthen your immunity.
Insoluble fiber can lower the risk of heart disease. It is linked with lower blood pressure and lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. The fiber may also help fight against atherosclerosis and encourage better heart health.
Antioxidants in squash and other bright-orange fruits and vegetables may have added benefits for heart health. One study, for example, found that heart disease risk fell by 23% for each additional serving of yellow or orange plant foods each day. The effects of theses antioxidants, called carotenoids, may help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
Foods rich in carotenoids are associated with a reduced risk for eye-related conditions like age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of vision impairment.
These antioxidants work to protect the eyes from UV damage.
Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants may also protect against cognitive decline. There is evidence to suggest an association between carotenoid intake and better memory recall and verbal communication.
There is also a potential link between vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that people with the highest blood levels of vitamin E had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those with the lowest.
Squash can be an easy substitute for starchy carbs. Cooked butternut squash, for example, is filling, low-calorie, and lends itself nicely as a side to a number of dishes. Using it in place of pasta is a great idea.
There isn’t a ton of research looking specifically at butternut or acorn squash. But due to their nutritional profile, there is no reason to believe these seasonal fruits cannot contribute to the above benefits.
Butternut Squash vs. Acorn Squash: Culinary Uses
How to Select a Squash
If you’re seeing acorn squash and butternut squash on store shelves this time of year, it means they’re fresh. Winter squash is harvested in the fall and should be available all winter long. The best part? You can store both types on the shelf for months.
When shopping for an acorn squash, you’ll want one that’s a lighter shade of green with a hint of orange on top.
Butternut squash doesn’t really have any telltale signs it’s ready; just look for one without any bruises or holes. Considering the neck-to-base ratio can also help. When the neck is nice and thick and not significantly slimmer than the base, you’ll be getting more squash and less seed.
How to Add Squash to Your Diet
Adding squash to your diet allows you to take advantage of seasonal flavors and plenty of nutrition. Both acorn and butternut squash are versatile and can fit into your diet in a variety of ways.
Acorn squash can easily be used as substitute for potatoes, and fits nicely into sweet, spicy, or savory dishes. Acorn squash benefits can be enjoyed in a number of ways.
It can be cut in half, drizzled with oil, and roasted in the oven. It can also be cut into thin slices like little fingers. You can eat the skin, too, for added nutrition.
Other ways to eat it include:
- As a topping on salads (bake first!)
- Pureed for baking into pies, breads, or muffins
- Halved and stuffed with cooked quinoa, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and goat cheese
You can use butternut squash as freely as acorn squash. Here are some ideas:
- Cube and roast, coated in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Slice and pan-fry or bake as an alternative to potato fries.
- Puree and heat for a simple soup.
- Cube and add to hearty chilis and stews.
- Cube, boil, and mash with milk and cinnamon for a sweet treat.
Butternut Squash vs. Acorn Squash: You Can’t Go Wrong with Either
Unless a recipe calls for it or you prefer the taste of one over the other, you really can’t make a bad decision with either of these fall and winter favorites.
They are good substitutes for each other and other foods, rich in nutrition, and easy to cook. Give them a try this season!
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Monaco, A., “The Differences Between Acorn Squash vs Butternut Squash,” Spoon University, 2020; https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/acorn-squash-vs-butternut-squash, last accessed October 8, 2020.
Wadyka, S., “Is Butternut Squash Good for You?” Consumer Reports, November 23, 2019; https://www.consumerreports.org/healthy-eating/is-butternut-squash-good-for-you/, last accessed October 8, 2020.