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Why are South Africans so obsessed with butternut?

Our editor takes a closer look at one of the country's most popular ingredients.

by: Tessa Purdon | 05 Jun 2018
man cutting butternut squash in kitchen

(image: iStock)

I'm willing to bet a dinner - with wine pairing, at The Test Kitchen that you don't know the history of what we affectionately call, Butternut. You are all (hopefully) familiar with the vegetable. In fact - it's SA's number one preference as a soup, according to Google. You've probably eaten it in salads, lasagnas, risottos, quiches, as the ostensibly healthy veggie chips and most likely even in puréed form as a baby. In a nutshell - South Africans love the orange Winter squash. Strangely though - we rarely serve it in desserts or sweet dishes like Americans do with their ubiquitous pumpkin pie. 

Aside from butternut's ability to keep for a really long time in the pantry, and the fact that it's often quite cheap, our palates seem to have a real taste for it. Farmer's Weekly published a great piece on the history of butternut. Did you know that it only came into existence in the mid-1940s? An American plant breeder by the name of Charles Leggett bred it as an answer to his problem (or opinion) that there wasn't a good-tasting squash big enough for a family to eat. 

Why the name butternut? The inside was found to be as smooth as butter and sweet as a nut, hence the name. Tip: the riper it is, the sweeter the flavour and the deeper the colour.

In a South African food article for Forbes, David Rosengarten says, "you will hardly see an African table anywhere in South Africa that does not have 'butternut' on it". The reason it's so popular? Until its emergence, the quality of pumpkin in South African was rather poor and so the deliciously sweet and strangely-shaped orange veggie became a better alternative. One of which we clearly cannot get enough! 

Check out these 5 incredibly wholesome and delicious butternut-led recipes! 

Roast butternut and Swiss chard barley risotto 

butternut and swiss chard barley risotto recipe

Chicken, butternut and feta crumble

Sarah Graham's chicken and butternut crumble recip

Reuben Riffel’s butternut, bacon and mushroom mac 'n cheese

reuben riffel's bacon and butternut macaroni chees

Roasted butternut falafel 

roasted butternut falafel recipe

Butternut and sweet potato gnocchi

butternut sweet potato gnocchi recipe

Let us know - what is your favourite way of eating butternut? Comment below. 

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