Got “squash hands”? Read on to find out why—and how to prevent it.
I'm a big fan of butternut squash and always look forward to eating it when the weather turns cooler and winter squash come into season. I love tossing cubes of tender, caramelized squash into hot cooked pasta with lots of Parmesan cheese, butter, and chopped fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme. I love roasting butternut squash with onions and root vegetables and serving it with pork tenderloin and sharp grainy mustard. And I love creamy butternut squash soup topped with a dollop of sour cream.
But do you know what I hate? Peeling and chopping butternut squash. Not because it’s hard to cut (here’s how to do it), but because it coats my hands with a strange sticky film that feels like super glue as it dries, making the skin on my palms tight and rough. Worse of all, it doesn’t wash or rub off—only time, and lots of moisturizing, will make my hands feel normal again.
And apparently I’m not the only one. A quick Google search reveals that this is a common reaction many people have to handling peeled butternut (and acorn) squash.
Butternut squash contains a sticky, sap-like substance that is released when the fruit (squash is technically a fruit) is cut. The liquid is so strong that it can harden into protective scab if the squash becomes cut or damaged—much like a tree. This sap has the same effect on skin, it creates a tough film that can feel stiff, or even itchy. According to some garden experts, the sap is more potent if the squash is young, so you might not encounter this unpleasant feeling if you are peeling a squash that has fully ripened.
If you’ve experienced “squash hands” before, you might have sworn off butternut squash completely. But if you’re like me and still crave it, wear well-fitting plastic gloves when peeling and slicing the squash. Or do as I do: peel the squash with a vegetable peeler and use a kitchen towel to create a barrier between your hands and the sap. Or avoid this task altogether and look for pre-peeled and cut butternut squash at the grocery store. It costs a bit more, but may also save you a lot of irritation—both physical and mental.