What is the Best Substitute for Kabocha Squash?

by Charlie

Before we discuss kabocha, let’s introduce winter squashes.

You see, winter squashes are what we Americans and most western nations refer to as pumpkins. They differ from summer squashes in that their seeds are allowed to ripen/mature between them fully, and their rind or outer surface becomes hard.

They can therefore be stored in winter (hence the ‘winter’ in winter squash). They are usually not ready-to-eat (you must cook them), and unlike summer squashes, cannot be eaten with their rind. It would be best if you peeled them off.

Why all this story? Kabocha is a type of winter squash that originated in Japan, hence its North American name, Japanese pumpkin. In Japan, however, it is almost referred to as a household name, since it could mean some things:

  • Kabocha
  • Western pumpkin
  • Other squashes

Kabocha serves as a fantastic ingredient for side dishes and soups. However, you might need to replace the kabocha squash in your meal with something else for more reasons than one.

What is the best substitute for kabocha squash? The best substitute for kabocha squash is butternut squash. Butternut squash has a similar sweetness to kabocha squash and a lot of the same nutrients.

An Overview of Kabocha Squash

Here’s the first thing we feel you should know – kabocha is sweet. Exceptionally sweet. This single fact is probably kabocha’s most distinctive feature.

While we have established earlier that winter squashes do not have edible rinds, kabocha might be an exception. When cooked, its rind is edible; but the truth remains that most cooks peel it off. It hastens the cooking process.

Again, the Japanese pumpkin is mostly used in side dishes, soups, sauces, or is eaten as a stand-alone meal.

There are several ways to prepare your kabocha meal:

  • Pressure cooking (or merely cooking). This has to be the most common preparation method. Peel the rind, cut in half, and steam under high pressure for about 20 minutes. Add some salt if you may. 
  • You can also roast kabocha. Do this after cutting the squash in half, using a spoon to scoop out the seeds, and further cutting into smaller wedges.
  • If it can be roasted, indeed it can be baked in the oven. Do this with some olive oil and seasoning.
  • Or you can eat them raw and snack away! 

Some of you might have noticed that it’s quite difficult to cut your kabocha on half and into wedges, even with the sharpest knife. Microwaving kabocha for about 2-4 minutes should do the trick. 

Asides general side dishes, soups and sauce, kabocha is more specifically used in vegetable tempura (a Japanese dish that contains deep-fried seafood and vegetables. You really should give it a shot if you haven’t). 

Asides Japan, other regions common to kabocha growth are South Korea, Thailand, California, Hawaii, and Mexico, to name a few. And here’s the remarkable thing… it’s available all year!

One cup of cooked Kabocha contains about 49 calories. It is rich in carbohydrates and sugars, but very low on fat, fibers, and protein. It is, therefore, suitable for those trying to lose weight. 

It is also immensely rich in micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. 

Why Replace Kabocha Squash?

  • Preference: “One man’s food is another man’s poison” has never been more true. For one reason or another, some people might simply not like kabocha. Taste, texture, or even a condition as serious as allergies. 
  • Curiosity: It’s highly possible to get bored with kabocha, and desire a different feel in your soups. It’s what these options are for.
  • Non-availability: This is probably the most popular reasoning. Sometimes the squash is just not available when you need it.

Best Recommended Substitute for Kabocha Squash: Butternut Squash

If kabocha isn’t available, what should impulsively come to mind as the next option should be a butternut squash (the Australians call it butternut pumpkin). It is a truly stunning replica of the kabocha squash. Being also a winter squash, it ticks all boxes the kabocha should.

If you’re trying to cut down on sugar and feel kabocha is too sweet, you should give the butternut squash a trial. It is also sweet, but not nearly as sweet as kabocha. You should also bear in mind that the riper it gets, the sweeter it becomes. 

It can be prepared the same way with kabocha (cooked, roasted, baked, or eaten raw), and has very similar nutrients. The butternut squash is, however, a better source of fiber and vitamin A. 

While classically a fruit (it can be eaten raw after all), it is widely used as a vegetable pureed for soups, and can also be mashed to be used for pies, muffins, and related pastry delights. 

Other Substitutes for Kabocha Squash

Sweet Potatoes

Given the top feature of the kabocha squash, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure that sweet potato comes in as its number one substitute.

Due to the strikingly similar taste, you can, in a heartbeat, substitute sweet potatoes for kabocha in any meal.

They have similar preparation techniques (both can be cooked, roasted, and baked), and even more similar nutritional values.

You can eat sweet potatoes alone with any sauce, used for soups, fried and eaten with burgers, mashed and used in pastries. The possibilities are unlimited.

The only significant difference between sweet potatoes and kabocha is that potatoes cannot be eaten raw. 

Acorn Squash 

These are smaller sized squashes, weighing only 1-2 lbs. They are particularly suited for baking. While some parties argue that they are too mild in taste and flavor to substitute for kabocha, we don’t. While they may not be as sweet, all you need to do is increase the quantity to reach the desired effect. 

Other common varieties include:

  • Banana Squash 
  • Butternut Squash 
  • Spaghetti Squash 

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