How Does Spaghetti Squash Do The Thing?
January 23, 2017 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Spaghetti squash looks like any other squash when raw, but when cooked the flesh turns into a whole pile of squiggly bits that appear and behave remarkably like noodles. How? What's the science behind this? My Google skills are only getting me an infinite number of recipes and the history of the squash's development, which, while interesting, are not answering the basic question of HOW?
posted by Rush-That-Speaks to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What exactly do you mean by "how"? The flesh of the spaghetti squash is made up of a series of tightly-compressed, noodle-like fibers or strands. When you cook it, the fibers become easy to separate. This is illustrated pretty nicely in the photos in this article (which also explains why you get longer strands if you cut the squash along the equator). Pay attention to this photo in particular.

As for why the spaghetti squash's flesh is like that, or what evolutionary purpose it serves, why it's not more common for other gourds, I don't know.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:44 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

A lot of other gourds have that stringy texture around the seeds. Did someone just decide to replant and cross the gourds with the greatest volume of stringiness, for fun and for profit?
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:53 PM on January 23, 2017

It contains alternating deposits of high methoxyl pectin and low methoxyl pectin. The former kind of pectin dissolves during cooking, while the latter does not. Hence: strings. Cite.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:55 PM on January 23, 2017 [32 favorites]

I don't know exactly what these strands are composed of, but I think it's worth noting that spaghetti squash is not the only "stringy" squash out there. Pumpkins and acorn squashes also tend to have relatively stringy flesh — and what do you know, all three species are cultivars of the same species, Curcurbita pepo. (This is akin to how broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc. are all the same species.) It's not too hard to imagine some proto-stringy squash whose strands were thickened & elongated over millenia via selective breeding (probably not Mother Nature.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:56 PM on January 23, 2017

Speaking of fibrous gourds, there's the sponge squash which I've always thought was pretty cool.
posted by bunderful at 8:27 PM on January 23, 2017

The Botanist in the Kitchen has a post with some info about the genetics of spaghetti squash, and their bibliography links to this paper with details on the pectin structure that julthumbscrew described.
posted by ourobouros at 6:20 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

(thank you for this question, my partner and I discovered today that we love spaghetti squash and meatballs!)
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 12:48 PM on January 24, 2017

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