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.