Consider this your winter guide to squash: honeynut vs butternut. We’ve seen both of these at our local farmer’s market or grocery stores like Whole Foods. We’ll even get a few of these winter squashes in our CSA box. Many will describe this as a mini butternut which led me to wonder: what really is the difference between honeynut and butternut squash?
I love this transitional period between summer and fall where we say goodbye to summer squashes like zucchini and welcome the hardy and hearty squash types like butternut and honeynut. When cooking with the seasons, I’ve harnessed an appreciation for each season and relishing the ingredients for the brief period they’re in season. Enjoying butternut squash and honeynut squash is one prime example of the joy of cooking with the seasons.
To be honest, I had never even thought about cooking with honeynut squash until I saw it pop up at our local farmers market. They looked like cute miniature butternut squash! After doing a bit more digging through cookbooks and talking with our farmers, I learned this sweet little squash packs a flavor punch to make every thing taste delicious!
What is Honeynut Squash and How Does it Differ From Butternut?
Bon Appetit offers a comprehensive overview on the history of honey nut squash. The TLDR: Back in 2009, Jack Aligere, the farm director for the Stone Barns Center, invited a group of plant breeders from Cornell University. Famed farm-to-table chef Dan Barber was then invited to cook for them at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills in New York. It was said that Barber took a produce breeder for a kitchen tour where Barber challenged the breeder to find a way to make butternut squash taste even better. The suggestion: to shrink it! And thus, a new squash was cultivated.
We start to see the small size squash in early October or late September depending on the growing season. I’ve tended to find them at our farmers market first before their arrive in our CSA box. When it comes to autumnal flavors and hearty, comforting dishes, squash takes center stage in many kitchens making it the perfectly delicious side dish.
How the Two Squash Varieties Differ in Appearance
While these two varieties may appear similar at first glance, they have distinct differences that can impact your culinary creations apart from honeynut being seen as the smaller version of the butternut.
First, let’s start with the basics – appearance. Both Honey Nut and Butternut Squash have a similar elongated shape, but there are some key visual distinctions. Honeynut squashes are a typically small squash variety, usually no more than 6 inches in length. It has a vibrant deep orange skin with green stripes and speckles. Butternut Squash, on the other hand, is larger, usually ranging from 8 to 12 inches in length, with a creamy beige-colored skin and a distinct bell-like shape.
Flavor Differences Between Honeynut Squash and Butternut Squash
The most significant difference between these two squashes lie in their flavor profile. Honeynut Squash lives up to its name with a natural sweetness and nutty flavor. Its flesh is smooth, tender, and boasts a rich, honey-like flavor, which makes it an excellent choice for those seeking a sweet and savory combination for a honeynut squash recipe. Butternut Squash offers a milder, more subtle sweetness compared to the more intense sweet flavor of its counterpart. Its flavor is often described as a mix of butterscotch and nutty notes, making it a versatile ingredient for various dishes.
Texture also plays a crucial role in culinary applications for any good squash. Honey Nut Squash is known for its creamier and silkier texture, making it a fantastic choice for purees, soups, and sauces. Butternut Squash, though still tender, has a slightly firmer texture, which can hold its shape better when roasted, making it great for roasting or as a filling for ravioli and other dishes.
Squash Varieties That Pack a Healthy Punch
Both squash varieties fall under their botanical name cucurbita moschata. No matter how you enjoy them, these squash varieties with a bright orange flesh are a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, and a healthy amount of beta-carotene. This is a squash variety you can feel good about for staying nourished and healthy during the fall and winter months.
Cooking Honeynut and Butternut Squash
Both rich in beta carotene, Honeynut Squash and Butternut Squash can be used in a variety of ways for a nourishing dish during the winter months. Depending on the squash variety you choose, the cooking methods may suit one variety more than the other. Personally, I’ve found the best way to enjoy either variety has been to roast them in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 to 40 minutes until the orange flesh of the squash is fork tender.
Honeynut Squash’s sweet buttery flavor and tender flesh is perfect for baking, steaming, and mashing. It’s also particularly ideal for desserts as a substitute to sugar pumpkins for pumpkin pie. Consider roasting a batch of honeynut squash with a bit of olive oil, a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, and a couple tablespoons of maple syrup or brown sugar. A bonus: the thin skin on the outer part of the honeynut is also an edible skin so you can enjoy as it or purée the whole thing for your recipe.
On the other hand, Butternut Squash’s firmer texture makes it an excellent choice for roasting on a parchment lined baking sheet or sautéing in a large skillet over high heat. Because butternut squash has tough skins, it’s best to peel the skin before cutting into cubes on your cutting board. Roast cubes of butternut squash until golden brown and use butternut squash in savory dishes like soups, stews, risottos and even hearty autumnal salads accented with a little goat cheese.
More Ideas for Winter Squash
If this is your first time cooking with either Honeynut or Butternut Squash, you’re in for a treat! The slightly sweeter flavor of these squash types are perfect for both sweet and savory dishes. If you like these squash types, try acorn squash, delicata squash, and even kabocha squash! Check out this post for five squash substitutes for delicata squash that is also super helpful when thinking about the versatility of autumn and winter squash in our seasonal cooking repertoire. For example, I’ll roast cubes of butternut squash interchangeably with slices of delicata squash to use in winter salads with a dark green salad mix of kale and spinach tossed with a robust vinaigrette. Or for a cozy weekend dinner option, try this gnocchi recipe that uses acorn squash for a main dish.
While Honeynut Squash and Butternut Squash may seem similar at first glance they each offer distinct qualities that cater to various culinary preferences and cooking styles. Honey Nut Squash delights with its intense sweetness and creamy texture, perfect for desserts and purees. In contrast, Butternut Squash boasts a milder sweetness and firm texture, ideal for roasting and savory dishes. Knowing the differences between these two squash varieties can help you make the most of your autumn cooking adventures. You can craft dishes that suit your tastes and preferences. This fall, I invite you to embrace the sweet secret of squash. I hope you’ll explore the world of both Honeynut and Butternut Squash in your kitchen.
Cheers to the next nourishing meal. 🧡