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BEST Kabocha Squash Substitutes + What to Avoid

I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of kabocha squash substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.

Butternut squash, acorn squash, or sweet potatoes are the best substitutes for kabocha squash. They’re easy to find and have a similar sweet flavor profile. Sugar pumpkins are a good option for desserts because they’re slightly sweeter than kabocha squash.

The experiment

I spent a delightful evening making small batches of squash soup to test out several kabocha squash (also known as Japanese pumpkin) substitutes.

Kabocha is a small winter squash with a tough green skin. It boasts a rich, sweet, and nutty flavor, which is sometimes described as a mix of sweet potato, pumpkin, and chestnuts.

It’s a staple ingredient in Japanese cuisine, where it’s used in sweet and savory dishes. You can find it in everything from soups, stir-fries, and curries, to desserts like pies and flans. Kabocha has been growing in popularity in recent years, so it’s much easier to find now, but don’t worry if you’re out of luck. There are some great substitutes.

Here’s what I tested and my verdicts:

Butternut squashEasy and accessible9/10
Acorn SquashNot as sweet9/10
Sweet potatoAnother easy option8/10
Sugar pumpkinsGreat for desserts 8/10
Other winter squashesEg Buttercup, sweet dumpling, Hubbard, Calabaza, or banana squash 8/10

Butternut squash 

Classic butternut squash is my go-to substitute for kabocha. It’s the most popular type of squash, so you can easily find it in any store, any time of the year. 

It doesn’t look anything like kabocha squash on the outside, but it has a similar orange flesh on the inside and it carries the same sweet notes as kabocha squash, although I did find it a tad milder. I didn’t mind the mildness with my soup, but you can always add an extra pinch of sugar to bump up the sweetness, especially if you’re making a dessert. 

Psst… if, like me, you find preparing butternut squash really intimidating (they’re so hard to cut!), get the pre-prepared stuff. It’s such a time saver.

How to substitute: Replace kabocha squash in a 1:1 ratio with butternut squash.

Acorn squash 

Acorn squash is named after its shape, which is mostly round with a pointed end just like an acorn.

In terms of flavor, I’d describe it as sweet and buttery. But it’s not as sweet as butternut squash, which meant it was a fair bit less sweet than the kabocha squash. Although again, this is nothing a dash of sugar or a drizzle of honey can’t fix.

It’s also got a more fibrous texture compared to kabocha squash, which meant my soup wasn’t quite as velvety. But a little tip, when you’re choosing your acorn squash, avoid ones with too much orange on their skin. These are the toughest ones.

How to substitute: Replace kabocha squash in a 1:1 ratio with acorn squash.

Sweet potato 

Sweet potatoes are another really easy replacement for kabocha squash. Like butternut squash, they’re available all year round and are super budget-friendly. They’re also much easier to cut into than butternut squash.

The orange flesh matches the flesh of a kabocha squash, and they have a deliciously sweet-but-earthy flavor profile with a hint of nuttiness. I also loved the creamy, thick texture of my squash-but-really-sweet-potato soup.

Psst… if you happen to have some pumpkin on hand, mix some in with the sweet potato to bring the flavor closer to kabocha squash.

How to substitute: Replace kabocha squash in a 1:1 ratio with sweet potatoes.

Sugar pumpkins 

Now, let’s talk about sugar pumpkins (also known as pie or sweet pumpkins). You’ve probably seen these around, especially during Halloween. After all, they’re the main ingredient for pumpkin pies! But they also make an excellent kabocha squash substitute. 

Unlike the previous substitutes, I found the sugar pumpkins were a touch sweeter than kabocha squash, which is unsurprising given its name. Even with the added chicken broth, the sweetness of the squash was still very prominent in my soup.

This means it’s perfect if you’re looking for a replacement for a dessert like Kabocha dango, Kabocha spiced cake, or Kabocha squash pudding. And if you want to balance out the extra sweetness, add some chili to the mix or a splash of lemon juice.

How to substitute: Replace kabocha squash in a 1:1 ratio with sugar pumpkins.

Other winter squashes 

If you thought butternut and acorn squash were the only winter squash options, you’re in for a surprise because the squash family has plenty more alternatives to offer. Banana, buttercup, and sweet dumpling squash all come packed with a distinctive sweetness that can compete head-on with kabocha squash.

If you prefer a much milder sweet flavor, I suggest giving calabaza a try. And if you’re looking to switch things up a bit, the delicata squash is your guy. It’s got that sweetness we’ve come to expect from winter squashes but with an unexpected hint of fresh corn which brought a summery twist to my soup.

And let’s not forget about the Hubbard squash. It’s got a thick, bumpy skin that you absolutely have to peel, unlike kabocha squash’s thinner rind which you can leave intact.

How to substitute: Replace kabocha squash in a 1:1 ratio with any of these winter squashes.

Substitutes to avoid 

While I was researching for substitutes to test, I came across a few that didn’t work out so well.

Yams were suggested quite often, but I found the flavor to be a lot more neutral than kabocha squash, so my soup was pretty bland. The same goes for yuca (also known as cassava). It has a very mild sweet flavor and a waxy texture – it’s a lot more like potatoes than kabocha squash.

One website also suggested ripe plantains, which are definitely sweet, but it’s a lot easier and more accurate to go for a sweet potato or a butternut squash.

Best Kabocha Squash Substitutes + 3 to Avoid

I tested several different kabcha squash substitutes to find the best one. I was looking for substitutes that could replicate the sweet flavor of the squash.
5 from 2 votes
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Course: Ingredient
Cuisine: American, Asian, Japanese
Keyword: kabocha squash substitutes, substitutes for kabocha squash
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1 person
Calories: 34kcal


  • 1 portion butternut squash
  • 1 portion acorn squash young Gouda
  • 1 portion sweet potato cucumber, radish, water
  • 1 portion sugar pumpkins
  • 1 portion other winter squashes e.g banana or buttercup


  • Cook your meal according to the recipe.
  • Add your chosen kabocha squash substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
  • Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.


Serving: 100grams | Calories: 34kcal

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