Chayote: A Prized Mesoamerican Squash

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Chayote is a popular Central American squash favored for its fresh, neutral flavors. This bright green gourd, which resembles a pear in size and shape, is a type of summer squash that has a rich, lengthy past and is packed with essential nutrients.

What is a Chayote?

The chayote (Sechium edule) is a pear-shaped fruit belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, which also consists of melons, watermelons, zucchini, and cucumbers. Chayote is botanically a squash, meaning that the fruit is often prepared in dishes similar to zucchini and other summer squash.

Chayote plants are perennial vines typical of tropical America and are also known as vegetable pear, mirliton, chocho, custard marrow, chuchu (in Brazil), choko and mango squash. The fruits typically grow to be about 5 inches long with a weight of about 8 ounces.

They often have thin green skin that is bumpy and occasionally hairy or prickly. The flesh is a pale-green color that is very mild in flavor with a crunchy texture that is often compared to cucumbers and potatoes.

History of the Chayote

The origins of chayote farming aren’t certain. Before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in America, it’s believed that the fruit was extensively grown by the Aztecs and Maya in Mexico and Central America. 

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Spanish brought chayote to Europe from Costa Rica. Chayote trade then spread to Asia and Africa before being exported to the United States in the latter part of the eighteenth century. 

After a long history of being cultivated in Mesoamerica, the chayote slowly began making its way South. According to popular belief, southern Mexico sent its first crops to Guatemala.

While most cultures prefer to use it as food, it also has a variety of medicinal uses. South America cherishes chayote plant leaves to soothe rashes, while the fruit itself is used for urine retention.

What Does Chayote Taste Like?

Ripe chayote has a mild taste similar to an Armenian cucumber and other common squash. The green gourd has white, crunchy flesh that is slightly sweet with a mild apple flavor.

When cooked, the taste mellows out, balancing out the cucumber and apple taste. The texture is often compared to the crunchiness of jicama.

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Chayotes have a bumpy, green skin, that blends into its firm, pale-green flesh.

How to Tell When Chayote is Ripe

You’ll want to make sure that your chayote is perfectly ripe before you eat it to ensure you’re getting the fruit’s optimal flavor and texture. The following characteristics will help you choose the perfect chayote:

ColorWhen you see bright green chayote, it is perfectly ripe and ready to eat. Unripened chayote won’t be as vibrant, while overripe chayote will start to become dull in color.
FragranceChayotes have a delicate flavor and even more delicate scent. Any chayote that gives off intense aromas is likely overripe.
FirmnessRipe chayotes will be very firm to the touch. Always check the entire fruit to make sure that there aren’t any soft spots.
TextureWhile deep wrinkles are totally normal for chayote, you still want them to have smooth and taught skin to the touch. Overripe chayote will have skin that feels loose and overly wrinkled.

In general, choose a chayote that is firm to the touch, green in color, and free of soft, brown spots. 

Can I Eat Chayote Raw?

Many people like to eat chayote in its raw form, similar to cucumbers or celery. It’s excellent in a variety of dishes in its raw form. Despite their botanical classification as fruits, Chayote squashes are usually prepared similarly to vegetables.

The squash’s skin, flesh, and seeds can all be eaten, either raw or cooked. Smoothies, slaws, and salads benefit significantly from their inclusion when consumed raw. 

Why Does Chayote Dry Your Hands?

Chayotes are known to emit a sap-like substance that causes numbness when touching it. When the skin is peeled or pierced, chayotes release a sap that makes your hand feel weird, almost like it’s covered in a dry film.

Worry not; while the sensation might be alarming, it usually only results in what is known as irritant contact dermatitis: an acute and temporary skin irritation. In most cases, the dried-out or numb feeling should disappear within 24 hours.

Because of this, we recommend using gloves when handling chayote.

How Do You Prepare Chayote?

To prepare the chayote, you first have to peel away the skin with a knife or a peeler. There may be ridges on the skin that you must carefully peel off with the knife.

Then you have to cut and deseed the chayote. To do this, all you have to do is slice it in half lengthwise, like you would with an avocado. Then grab a spoon, pop the seed out, and finish chopping the fruit in whatever manner your recipe calls for.

The chayote’s mild flavor makes it a natural match for intense flavors and spices. It is often used similarly to other squashes, being frequently baked, deep fried, stuffed, and stewed.

In Latin America, chayote fruit is also used in sweet dishes, where it is prepared similarly to a pumpkin and made into pastries, pies, preserves, and other desserts.

The plant’s other parts can be eaten as well. Chayote roots, known as chinchayote, are prepared similarly to potatoes. The shoots can be cooked like asparagus tips in stir-fries and salads, while the leaves can be cooked similarly to spinach.

If you’re looking for simple ways to cook chayote, check out these 10 Easy Chayote Squash Recipes

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Baked stuffed chayote is one of the most popular ways to prepare this fruit.

Nutritional Benefits of Chayote

Just one chayote offers 40% of our recommended daily intake of vitamin B9, which is vital for the development of the fetal brain and spinal cord. This makes it a great option for people who want to become pregnant. 

The chayote also helps reduce fatty acid deposits in livers and lowers cholesterol, which protects against fatty liver disease. It prevents this by speeding up the body’s metabolism and its ability to process fats. 

Chayote has plenty of other benefits, such as improving blood sugar control and being rich in antioxidants, which help to lower cell damage and reduce signs of aging. They also contain Vitamin C, Calcium, and a variety of amino acids.

Is Chayote a Type of Squash?

Even though a chayote looks, smells, and tastes like a vegetable, it is in fact a squash which is a fruit. Like other types of squash, chayote is typically prepared as a vegetable, though it is occasionally utilized in fruit-oriented recipes such as smoothies. 

Let’s compare chayote to another squash, for example, the winter squash (such as butternut). Although the butternut squash has more Vitamin B1, B6, and potassium, the chayote has more folates, zinc, and copper. Apart from that, their skins, smells, tastes, and textures are very similar.

Do You Eat the Skin of Chayote?

While the skin is edible, most people prefer to peel it off before consuming the fruit. All parts of the chayote are edible, even the seeds, skin, and flowers, and when cooked, the skin grows softer and not as crunchy when raw. 

The main reason for peeling them before eating is because there may be some small hair-like spines that could be harmful to our mouths and throats. The skin’s texture can also be too rough or chewy for certain recipes.

Where to Purchase Chayote

The chayote should be available in most grocery stores. If you can’t find any, try at a more specialized store like Whole Foods or your neighborhood farmers’ market. Chayote squash is more likely to be available throughout the year in regions close to the equator due to its longer growing season in warmer climates.

While chayotes are available all year round, their peak season is the fall and late spring (October to May).

Amber Claridge

Amber is a writer who is curious about everything and loves to learn, especially about all types of food. She enjoys widening her horizons and looks forward to visiting tropical countries and trying out their cuisines.

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