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Butternut squash making my hands weird
September 23, 2007 4:00 PM   Subscribe

After cutting up some butternut squash for soup, I noticed that the skin on my left hand became dry and tight. What's going on?

No matter how much I wash my hand, it doesn't seem to alleviate the problem, so I don't think it's a residue. Lotion doesn't seem to help, either. I've noticed it before when cutting up butternut squash, but never thought too much about it. (It's not on my right hand, but I assume that's because I was holding it with my left hand and cutting with my right hand, so there wasn't as much contact.)

I can't really tell if it's making my skin peel or if it is just a really stubborn residue. Google searches have shown that some people have the same reaction, but no good explanation why.

I'm pretty sure this won't kill me, but it is kind of puzzling...anyone know what's going on?

Even if it does kill me, though, the soup is so good it'll be worth it.
posted by pyjammy to Food & Drink (8 answers total)
 
Yeah, it happens to me, too, though I can always wash it off with dishwashing liquid. I don't have a definitive answer except:

- you're right, it won't kill you.
- dish soap might work better than bar soap.
- a stiff nailbrush or bath brush should help.

I've always thought it was a residue of sugars and starches, since winter squash is high in both. I get a similar residue on my cutting boards, but dishwashing soap and a stiff brush takes it off.
posted by Elsa at 4:23 PM on September 23, 2007


Man, you read my mind (and saved my askme!). I just up 4 squash for the freezer today and my hand looks like an acid burn victim. The answer on your hands behalf is to wear a latex glove, just like you would for hot peppers.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:24 PM on September 23, 2007


That has happened to me too, and it was painful enough that I always use gloves for butternut squash now. Other cases have been documented, such as

Potter, T. S., & Hashimoto, K. (1994). Butternut squash (cucurbita moschata) dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis, 30(2), 123.

The authors hypothesize that it is an allergic reaction since they also handled squashes and were unaffected; they treated with a corticosteroid and the squash-preparer recovered within 24 hours.
posted by zepheria at 4:27 PM on September 23, 2007


I withdraw my recommendation to use a stiff brush. You all seem to be suffering a far more serious reaction than mine. Sorry to hear it.
posted by Elsa at 4:33 PM on September 23, 2007


Butternut sap is just evil. If you doubt this, cut off the stem end of a butternut, leave it sitting on the counter for five minutes, then touch one of the little dewy blobs that forms around the edges of the cut, and taste your fingertip. It will turn your face inside out.

It's always messed with my skin as well. If I wash my hands thoroughly immediately after cutting up a butternut, it messes less.
posted by flabdablet at 4:37 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I get something similar from orange squashes like acorn squash-- and from sweet potatoes. (Or yams. Whichever the orange ones are.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 5:23 PM on September 23, 2007


I've noticed this a little with squashes such as butternut. The worst offender to me is Chayote which really drys out my hands. The responsible agent seems to be in the peel.

Recently I had a very large butternut. I cut it in half and only further prepared the top for cooking. Later I looked at the remaining bottom. All around the circumference of the cut little beads of moisture were welling up. I left if out overnight and the beads dried and became rubbery.

I hope you are not using a vegetable peeler to peel your squash because that will release a lot of whatever the substance is. The fastest and easiest way to peel a butternut is with a large kitchen knife. First cut it in half where the bulb meets the shaft. This gives a good flat support surface. Also slice off the top. Next set the top half on its cut surface on a cutting board. Use the large kitchen knife to vertically cut strips of peel from the sides. I often cut maybe 12 strips. (prepping the bottom half is similar but more difficult because your knife has to follow a curved surface).

I think butternut is favored for recipes that involve cut-up squash because it is the easiest to peel. (Acorns are a bitch, and once I made the mistake of trying to peel a Turban squash - the skin was so hard that I had to cut it into segments with a cross-cut say). Chayote seems to have the thinest peel and a vegetable peeler works fine but it always gives me very dry hands.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:08 PM on September 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ah, MSN - I did use a vegetable peeler on it. Next time I will try your trick with a knife instead.

Thank goodness the soup turned out delicious - it was worth the peeling, dry skin!
posted by pyjammy at 6:22 AM on September 24, 2007


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