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Extremely weird butternut squash reaction

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Ok this was so weird. I know it's happened to me before, so it's not just a one-time thing but I just can't figure out why. I was peeling a raw butternut squash with a vegetable peeler and then cut it into chunks to roast. The specific logistics are pertinent here: after peeling, I held the squash in my left hand and cut it into chunks holding the knife in my right hand. After finishing, I noticed that the palm of my left hand was, well, sort of shrivelled and dried up. I washed my hands well thinking that I just had some dried squash juice on it. But no - it just got worse. Eventually, the skin on the palm and fingers of my left hand became so stiff that I could barely open my hand all the way. Then...the skin began to crack and flake off. It was just like a chemical peel! My right hand, which did not contact the squash at all, was perfectly normal. No amount of hand cream helped. This effect lasted about 5 hours. My hand is now fine. Any explanation????

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  1. the starches that are released are putting a "coating" on your hand. the same thing happens to me. it dries and it seems like it will never wash off no matter what. totally know what you're talking about. it is possible you're having an allergic reaction, but highly doubt it because you wouldn't be able to eat it and your right hand would be effected somewhat. in order to avoid this, put the squash in the oven whole at 400 degrees for about 30-45 minutes until fork tender. cool and then the peeling just, literally peels away from the flesh. much easier and no "raw" peeling required. i do this in my cooking classes for a butternut squash bisque all the time. i never cook it any other way anymore. if you want chunks or a dice, just cook it less or until it's like an almost done potato.

    9 Replies
    1. re: ChefShell

      Your explanation sounds right, I just have a slight quibble: It is possible to have a skin allergy and still be able to ingest the substance. My daughter's skin is allergic to lobster "juice". If the liquid from steaming the lobster drips onto her skin she breaks out in a burn-like rash which is extremely painful. She, however, eats lobster regularly. Just makes sure it's grilled and she uses a fork! Strange but true.

      1. re: mirage

        Absolutely true, I once had terrible rashes from eating whole mangos, when the juice got on my hands and on my face. But I eat mango all the time with out any tummy upset...
        lucky I am not a monkey... or I would have to be a monkey with a knife and fork.

        1. re: ciaolette

          There's something in the mango skin that affects some people.

          1. re: lgss

            its the sap, many people are allergic. the juice on skin can also cause a rash, but usually its the sap.

        2. re: mirage

          oh absolutely, you can be allergic to things dermatologically and still be able to ingest them. didn't mean that it was absolute. our daughter can't touch eggplant with her hands but can eat it with a fork and i'm the same with strawberries. sorry for the confusion.

          1. re: Chefshell

            Yup! This isn't a food allergy, but I get really itchy when I touch grass with my bare skin. I don't react to it in the air, though.

          2. re: mirage

            wow! i thought it was just me!!...when i worked as a prep cook in a pro-lobster place, i had to wear latex gloves taped to my chef coat to avoid the wrath of lobster juice : 1 drop would leave an itchy, inflamed red mark on my skin for the entirety of the day

          3. re: ChefShell

            It was probably not an allergic reaction simply because of the fact that there was no pain or sensitivity reaction to the "cracking of the skin" that would be caused by increased blood flow to the afflicted area. I would probably agree with the starh coating idea.

            1. re: ChefShell

              There's probably enzymes in butternut squash, like there are in mangos, papaya, pineapple etc, which can tenderize meat and break down proteins. It's very common for those enzymes to be added to facials.

            2. h
              Heidi Claire

              Deep orange colored squashes and pumpkin contain many enzymes that react on the skin in much the same manner as a glycolic acid chemical peel. In fact, there are many, many pumpkin facial peels presently on the market. It seems that you may be hyper-sensitive, or even allergic to the concentrated enzymes to realize such a strong contact reaction.

              1. Yeah, the same thing happens to me everytime I work w/ a butternut. The first time I had a mini-freak out b/c my whole hand seemed to stiffen and get numb. Now, I just immediately scrub my hands w/ dishwashing soap and a dobie. It still feels a little strange for about 30 min. to an hour, but then returns to normal. Your reaction of 5 hrs. seems like a long time, so maybe you should consider wearing food gloves when handling it in the future.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Glad it's not just me. I didn't think it could possibly be. And since I don't have any other allergies, I very much doubt it's an allergy. I will definitely use gloves next time I work with a raw butternut squash.

                  However, I am thinking of marketing it as a natural facial peel....

                  Oh just kidding. However....

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    Me too! Me too! Is it okay to eat the squash afterward? Oh dear, this is weird. Is it some kind of toxin? Or am I being paranoid?

                2. I too just had this exact same react to peeling butternut although I have had comtact with this type of sqash before with no reaction.
                  Do you think if you wash your hands immediately it can lessen the reaction?
                  Thanks to everyone for writing in - you saved me from freaking out about my blistery peeling hand!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: beth

                    I too had this reaction (thank dog I could run to the internet to see what was up!). In any event, I found that spraying my hand with Simple Green (an organic and very powerful cleaner) immediately stopped the numbness and apparent allergic reaction. I am somewhat allergic to squash and have all sorts of contact dermititis issues, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this.

                  2. How odd. I wonder why it happens to some people but not others.

                    I'd only offer what may be an alternative solution: don't peel the squash. I've found that in most recipes, it's fine to leave it on (wash first, of course). I actually like the texture of it, too.

                    1. The same thing happens to me every time I forget to put gloves on when peeling butternut squash. It will also happen, to a lesser degree, if I peel a lot of sweet potatoes, pumpkin or mango. To a far lesser degree it can happen with carrots. I always put it down to the enzymes that all of these foods have in common and to the high beta-carotene content. I've also noticed that it has happened to everyone else who works with me, so I never gave it too much thought. It doesn't appear to be harmful -- just kinda icky.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: chefbeth

                        with mango its not that suprising. Mangos are actually in the Anacardiacae family, whose most familar member in this country is poison ivy. Terefore if you are very sestive to poison ivy it is best to handle mangos with gloves. Cashews are also members and in fact thier oils are ven worse (can leave permanent scars) but most of this oil is in the nut shell which is removed before selling (which is why you can't find in the shell cashews in the market) still if you are sestive it is often a good idea to avoid contact with cashews, especially raw (unroasted) ones (roasting destroys the oils) and of course if you live somewhere where it is warm enough to grow your own cashew tree be very careful harvesting.

                      2. I was stunned the first time it happened to me. My skin just started to peel off. I was so freaked out. I always wear gloves now when dealing with butternut squash.

                        1. this just happened to me for the first time! glad i'm not the only one hehe! I was prepping a butternut squash for some butternut squash fries... i started freaking out cause my fingers started to swell and the skin started to crack... weird!! i love food science :)

                          1. http://books.google.com/books?id=Zrcl...

                            Two relatives are dermatologists and pointed me to this link as many of their patients work in the food industry and often complain about prep reactions on the job.

                            1. Yep, that happens to me, too. I usually roast them, so peeling later is easier, but sometimes I want cubes and then I peel and slice with gloves on.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                                Washing hands normally: no dice. Lava soap and a fingernail brush: the orange coating comes right off, with a little bit of scrubbing.

                                Gloves next time!

                              2. thank god for google, I thought it was just me this happened to, I was afraid to eat it, guess I'll try it.

                                1. It is absolutely a contact dermatitis reaction - contact allergy, if you will. I wear latex gloves to work with raw squash. I also use a knife to take off the skin instead of a peeler. Precision suffers, but you don't release as much of the substance in the skin that causes the reaction.

                                  I keep a tube of Benadryl cream at hand, too, but I think that has more of a placebo effect than anything. Once the squash is cooked, eating it is no problem.

                                  I've also roasted before peeling, which seems to solve everything. Working on the squash in my latex gloves makes me feel sort of like a squash serial killer!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: nonsequiteuse

                                    Glad I found this. I thought I had leprosy.

                                  2. As a doctor and someone who this happens to, I can say for certain that it is NOT an allergy. I'm not saying that no one has ever had contact dermatitis from touching squash, but that is not what you are describing. No hives, no itching, no redness=no histamine release. I have always chalked it up to the sticky juices drying on my hands. Kind of like if you spread elmer's glue all over your hands and let it dry. Much harder to get it off though. These days, I usually just hold onto the squash with a napkin or paper towel and it's generally fine.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: dsackton

                                      I do get little bumps and itching along with the orange coloring and skin tightness, so I'm going to chalk my reaction up to contact dermatitis. That said, it doesn't really bother me, and I love butternut squash!

                                      1. re: dsackton

                                        Hives are considered symptoms of immediate hypersensitivity reactions - one kind of allergic reaction. "Immediate hypersensitivity is an allergic response mediated by IgE (an antibody found in the circulation). On the skin this can present as hives that migrate beyond the point of contact with latex. Systemic allergic symptoms can include itching eyes, swelling of lips or tongue, breathlessness, dizziness, abdominal pain, nausea, hypotension, shock and, potentially, death."

                                        On the other hand, patients can also have a delayed hypersensitivity reaction, which "presents as a chemical allergy. The skin area affected becomes dry, crusty and leathery with eruptions appearing as sores and blisters."

                                        "Contact dermatitis" simply means an inflamation of the skin due to contact with a particular substance. The definition does not specify whether or not this has to be an IgE-mediated response. You can indeed have a skin reaction without having hives or anaphylactic symptoms, and many people do, my youngest daughter included.

                                      2. I am so thankful for this post!!! I thought I had a pinched nerve, b/c 3 of the fingers on my left hand went almost totally numb for over an hour, and the skin started peeling!! I had been cooking and peeled and cubed a whole butternut squash, and never would have thought to connect the two. =)

                                        1. The same thing happened to me yesterday! The only difference is that my fingertips on my left hand and my right thumb started throbbing/pulsating. My skin peeled and I still have brown shiny spots on my hand and fingers that resemble age spots. Very weird! I'm wearing gloves from now on :)

                                          1. Nyleve,

                                            Thanks for posting this. It happened to me tonight and I was a bit freaked out at the numbness and weird tight feeling. Thanks also to those who replied with explanations!

                                            Internet can be awesome for this kind of thing!

                                            Mahalo!

                                            1. Whoa, I just had that same weird butternut squash reaction. My left hand was yellow, scaly, and all shriveled up which made my fingers feel numb . I tried to move my fingers and they were stiff and hard to move. I washed my hands to no avail. Then I tried scrubbing them with a wedge of lemon...still nothing. Starting to panic, I checked online to find this website. After reading through the comments I realized this is not a medical emergency. After looking for some type of organic wash, I found a veggie wash and figured let me give it a try. I sprayed some FIT, fruit and vegetable spray on my hands and let it set for a bit before washing it off. It worked wonders! Amazing product!! It must have been all the starches released from peeling the squash which produced a film. That's my guess!

                                              1. I know this is an old post, but I've cut up a lot of butternut squash and never had this happen to me until last week. I pealed about a half dozen to blanch and freeze. This happened to me this time. It so reminded me of the old "elmer's glue" thing. I just pealed the stuff off not realizing is was just skin. I thought it was residue from the squash that had dried. Didn't really bother me much, but was just weird. Glad that I am not the only one this has happened to. Thanks for the post and also to those who revived the post!

                                                1. I just cut up a raw Butternut squash, and began to sneeze strongly. So much so, that I decided to research 'Butternut squash allergy' and ended up here. There is little doubt in my mind that it was the squash. I hardly ever sneeze, and not that strongly either. Nothing else in my kitchen has changed.
                                                  My fingertips dried out as well. They are as dry as if I had washed a lot of dishes, or cleaned with a strong cleaner.

                                                  While researching, I read that some mothers gave Butternut squash to their young children and a few children experienced what the mother thought was an allergic reaction.

                                                  1. Thank you to all that posted on this topic. I just had the same experience with a pumpkin. The pumpkin vine grew out of my former compost pile this summer and I just picked one to roast for soup. I cut it up and put it in the oven and went on my busy way... About 15 minutes later, my left fingers that I used in cutting were orange, cracking, peeling... I thought my "wild" pumpkin was toxic! I knew the fastest way to get answers was Google. The same as most of you I jumped on the internet and found that I'm not alone - yeah, I'll be here for the holidays :)

                                                    Thankfully, I didn't peel it and just cut it up, good news I found this cool site.

                                                    Happy Holidays All!

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: FrankieM

                                                      When I peel and cut my squash in a few days, I will be wearing GLOVES!!! :) Thank goodness for the internet.

                                                      Happy Holidays to you too, Frankie!!

                                                    2. I've had the reaction with chokos (chayote), it eventually washes off but leaves my skin very rough feeling.

                                                      1. Wow! I found this conversation while looking for instructions on cooking this butternut squash I bought. I am hypersensitive and as I was reading all these reactions I hadn't realized I was scratching both my arms and my hands and nails were getting dry - and I only washed the darn thing! I could only imagine the freakazoid I would have turned into had I cut it or peeled it. I think this will be my first and last butternut squash. I am even weary to eat it! Hmmm....

                                                        1. I worked with butternut squash in the past and never had this happen until today. I peeled and sliced and eggplant, salted it and let it drain in the sink. Then I peeled the squash and diced it. Then went back to the colander in the sink with the eggplant to toss it to help it drain.
                                                          Then it did react just like a chemical peel. I think it was the combination of the salt, the eggplant juice and the juice of the squash still on my hand and on the hand that touched both vegetables and the salted eggplant.
                                                          The skin did tighten, get red and sting/burn a bit, then I washed my hands twice before I got it to stop. Then it was just like peeling off skin like it was dried Elmer's glue.
                                                          Now my fingertips are much softer - got rid of some old dried skin from all the hand washing I do as a chef.