Are There Health Benefits of Kabocha Squash?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on August 23, 2022
5 min read

Kabocha pumpkin (or, kabocha squash) is a delicious and nutritious squash. It is versatile and can be added to a variety of dishes. Research shows that it has several health benefits

Here’s everything you need to know about kabocha squash nutrition, benefits, and more.

Kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima) is a type of winter squash. It is a fruit that grows in bushes but is eaten as a vegetable. It can be round or oblate and weighs from 1.5 to 5.3 pounds. It has a hard, dark green, gray, or reddish-orange rind and yellow-to-orange flesh. Kabocha is popular in Japan and is added to dishes like soups and tempura. 

In Japanese, “kabocha” means winter squash or pumpkin. Kabocha squash was first grown in Cambodia and was brought to Japan and South America by the Portuguese in the mid-16th century. It was then brought to North America and became more common by the 19th century. 

Kabocha pumpkin is also called chestnut squash because of its sweet, nutty flavor. It tastes like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin. Kabocha squash taste can vary based on their ripeness and storage conditions. 

Kabocha squash tastes the best when it is fully ripe one or a few months after harvest. During harvest, it has high starch content and less sugar. During ripening after harvest, the starch gets converted into sugars, improving its texture and sweetness.

For an 85-gram serving, kabocha squash nutrition is as follows:

  • 29.8 calories 
  • 1 gram of protein                    
  • 7 grams of carbohydrate
  • 1.02 grams of fiber
  • 3 grams of sugars       
  • 20.4 milligrams of calcium      
  • 350 milligrams of potassium
  • 9.01 milligrams of vitamin C
  • 3850 international units of vitamin A   

Kabocha squash is also a rich source of vitamin A, fiber, and flavonoids like beta-carotene. It is good for health because it contains zero sodium, fats, and cholesterol.

Kabocha squash health benefits include the following:

1. Improves blood sugar levels. Kabocha squash is lower in calories and carbohydrates than a sweet potato. It has a low glycemic index, which means it slowly increases and maintains blood sugar levels. Like other winter squash types, kabocha pumpkin is rich in polysaccharides or fiber. It keeps you full for longer and prevents blood sugar from rising quickly. Kabocha squash seeds contain good fats and protein that help maintain blood sugar levels.

Evidence suggests that Cucurbita maxima can help quickly and effectively lower blood glucose levels in critical patients with diabetes. However, further studies are required to understand the exact role of kabocha pumpkin in people with diabetes.

2. Prevents oxidative damage. Kabocha pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, flavonoids, and polysaccharides. They have antioxidant effects that help protect cells from oxidative damage by harmful molecules called free radicals. Oxidative damage can cause aging in cells and lead to long-term health conditions. Antioxidants in kabocha pumpkin can help prevent these health problems and maintain healthy cells.

3. Inhibits cancer growth. Cancer growth occurs when genetic material or DNA in your cells gets damaged and changes. Kabocha pumpkin contains flavonoids like beta-carotene and lutein. Their antioxidant properties protect your cells and DNA from free radical damage, which helps prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Beta-carotene converts to form vitamin A. It is the compound that gives kabocha pumpkins their orange color. It helps cells communicate with each other, regulates cell growth, and improves immunity. It also stimulates the production of chemicals that break down cancer-causing or carcinogenic molecules. 

Studies have also revealed that lutein and zeaxanthin present in kabocha squash may help protect against skin cancer. Vitamin C in this plant also boosts the immune system, destroys free radicals, and inhibits cancer cell growth.

4. Decreases blood pressure and protects heart health. Kabocha squash is rich in potassium and fiber. It helps maintain sodium levels and lower blood pressure. It has no fats or cholesterol, which helps maintain cholesterol levels.

Research shows that Cucurbita maxima has antioxidant effects that decrease cholesterol buildup, promote heart health, and prevent heart problems.

5. Improves eye health. Nutrients such as vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin present in kabocha pumpkin are essential for eye health. They prevent oxidative damage and inflammation and protect the eye from aging-related disorders like macular degeneration.

6. Promotes skin health. Research shows that kabocha squash flavonoids like beta-carotene and lutein promote skin health. It prevents oxidation and inflammation of skin cells. It may also protect skin from damage, aging, and cancer growth. 

Winter squash has a hard rind or skin, which becomes firmer as it ripens. So, while buying a kabocha squash, choose one with a firm, hard, deep-colored rind without soft spots, cracks, or mold. Look for a kabocha pumpkin with matte, hard skin. Avoid buying a shiny or soft one, as it may be unripe. Don't buy a squash if it has soft parts or a moldy stem as it may be too ripe. 

If you buy an unripe squash, place it in the sun to ripen it. If you get a mature or ripe kabocha squash, store it in a cool dark area but avoid refrigeration. Eat it within a month for the best flavor. Once you cut it, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it for up to 5 days.

You can eat kabocha pumpkins by cutting them in half or into slices, cubes, or dice. You can mash them. You can use kabocha squash as a substitute in butternut squash or acorn squash recipes. You can prepare them in salads, side dishes, mains, or desserts. 

Most people eat them for their flavor, but their texture and dry flesh make them ideal for cooking in stews and curries. If you want to eat them raw, you can dice or grate them into a salad for a nutty, sweet crunch and their bright orange color.

Before you cut kabocha squash, rinse it under cold, running water. Clean it to remove any dirt or debris and dry it. Kabocha pumpkin skin is thin and can be eaten. 

If you want to peel a kabocha squash, you can use a vegetable peeler. You can pierce the rind in different places with a knife and microwave the squash for a few minutes. This will soften the skin and help you peel it faster.

You might slice the squash into two sections lengthwise, remove the seeds, and use the two halves as bowls for stuffing. You can also cut or slice it into smaller bite-sized bits. Kabocha squash is a versatile vegetable — you can roast, boil, steam, mash, or stew it. Dry-heat methods like roasting, as an example, allow the natural sugars in kabocha pumpkins to caramelize and intensify their flavor. 

Kabocha pumpkins add a hearty, dense texture to soups, curries, stews, spaghetti, rice, and desserts. Add them to your favorite dishes and enjoy their flavor and health benefits.