Kabocha squash was first introduced to Japan in the sixteenth century as an exotic vegetable from the Cambodia region (from which the term “kabocha” is derived). This traditional vegetable, called Nihon kabocha (Japanese kabocha), has a bumpy skin and soft, watery flesh. However it is the highly popular seiyo kabocha (Western kabocha), or winter squash, that dominates the market today. The seiyo kabocha was originally imported from the US in the nineteenth century and is characterized by smooth skin and very sweet flesh.
Most kabocha is harvested in summer and autumn, but turns sweeter in autumn and winter after a post-harvest ripening period. Highly nutritious, it is rich in beta carotene, potassium, fiber and antioxidants, and can be stored for long periods.
In Japan there is a notable tradition of eating kabocha on the day of the winter solstice, to symbolize hope for good health in the coming cold months. Kabocha can be enjoyed in many different ways, and features in roasted and simmered dishes as well as in tempura.
Other articles in this series
Explore food forum
The Japanese Table presents a variety of themes regarding traditional Japanese food culture. In each volume, a specific topic such as history, customs and food groups, is explored from several different angles.
Close-up Japan zooms in on current trends in food culture and popular food topics in Japan.
Japanese Style provides a brief introduction of Japanese food customs, etiquette and culinary techniques.
Tasty Travel takes you on delectable journeys. Each issue focuses on a specific regional dish.
Each volume introduces a total of eight attractive fusion-style and traditional recipes.
Special Report takes a look at people who are introducing Japanese cuisine around the world.