Are Squash and Zucchini Actually the Same Thing?

They are all gourd eating...

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Photo Taken In Sweden, Linkping

Photo by: Evgeny "ECHOEVG" Ivanov

Evgeny "ECHOEVG" Ivanov

There are a lot of close cousins in the produce world — we see you, sweet potatoes and yams. But one of the most-vexing questions, especially come late summer is: Are squash and zucchini the same? They're often used interchangeably, and are strikingly similar in flavor and texture, making it difficult to ascertain if there's actually a difference.

So, here's the thing: All zucchini are squash, but not all squash are zucchini. Are you even more confused now? The term "squash" refers to a plant species within the gourd family, which is further divided into winter squash and summer squash. The winter types — think butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash — are physically hard, with inedible outer skins and very tough seeds. Since you can eat everything but its stem, tender zucchini falls into the summer category, as do pattypan, crookneck and zucchini's closest doppelganger, the yellow squash. The resemblance between zucchini and yellow squash is the primary cause of the zucchini-vs.-squash confusion.

The easiest way to tell the two apart is color. Zucchini is generally deep green — though it can be golden yellow — while yellow squash is, well, bright yellow. Shape is another indicator. Zucchini is mainly straight, while yellow squash sports a bulbous bottom, which tapers as it gets toward the top.

As for texture, they really are similar, with off-white interior flesh that's spongy — or squashy, as it were. And zucchini and yellow squash can be prepared in the same ways, either combined together or rolling solo.

One of the simplest methods of cooking these veggies is a quick saute, a la Rachael Ray. But they can also be marinated, shaved raw into a carpaccio or diced into a salsa for ladling over grilled mahi mahi.

Since they're long and relatively sturdy, zucchini and yellow squash can stand up to a casserole, be stuffed and turned into boats, or even hit the grill. Need further proof of their culinary diversity? Yellow squash (or zucchini) is the star of dishes as disparate as Summer Squash Soup with Basil, and Summer Squash and Bacon Galette.

So while you may say "zucchini" and we may say "squash," in the kitchen you really can't go wrong with either.

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