Learn About Chayote Squash

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About

Pronounced [chah-YOH-teh], the chayote is another native Mexican plant and is a member of the squash family. It is also referred to as a "vegetable pear" or chcocho. In France the chayote is called a christophene. The flesh is quite crisp something like a water chestnut. The chayote is seen in two forms, smooth and prickly. More than just the chayote fruit is edible. You can use chayote flowers to decorate a salad or saute the leaves and tendrils for a side dish.

History And Lore

prickly chayoteChayote (Sechium edule) was actually domesticated in Mexico and seen in South American until after the Spanish conquest. (Sophie Coe, America's First Cuisines). The starchy squash was a staple of the Aztecs. The name chayote is derived from the Nahuatl world chayotli. 

The squash is actually a member of the gourd family but it unusual given it has a single seed and it is a perennial (it can come back every year from the same plant)

The Mayans added chayote shoots (as a green) to beans and also ate the fruit and the starchy roots.  The chayote shown here is the prickly variety.

Buy And Store

Chayote have become popular in the U.S. and are found in many large markets. They are being cultivated in Florida, California, and Louisiana. They are very common in Latino grocery stores. Select firm, smooth, unwrinkled chayote.  Old chayote become very wrinkled and become dry and tough.  Chayote will keep refrigerated for many days but it is best to use as quickly as possible.

Chayotes are available almost year round with main crops in fall and late spring.

Medicinal Uses

Medicinal uses of the chayote included a tea made of the leaves is reported to dissolve kidney stones as well as a treatment for arteriosclerosis and hypertension.

Culinary Uses

The chayote can be eaten raw in salads, or stuffed and baked.  Other preparations include mashing, pickling, frying or boiling. The plain squash tends to be bland and benefits from "aggressive" seasoning. You can see a recipe here for sauteed chayote leaves and tendrils.  You can also eat the chayote tuber portion of the roots boiled or you can add it to a simple vegetable or meat stew.  In the Philippines there is a popular dish called Ginisang Sayote.  The dish combines chunks of sayote (chayote) with carrots, onion, garlic, seasonings and a protein, typically pork.  The dish is served with rice.

Calories And Nutritional Benefits

Given this vegetable (technically it is a fruit but we treat it like a vegetable) is mostly water it is low in calories (one cup of 1" cubes) is only 25 calories.  There is only 1 gram of protein so you won't be looking for this as a major protein source.  Carbs are only 6 grams so that's not bad.  There is some vitamin C, about 10 grams per cup ( The recommended daily amount of vitamin C for a woman is about 75mg and for an adult mean is 90 milligrams.  Even so after you boil it there is probably very little Vitamin C left.

To put your 6 grams of carbohydrate in perspective here are the allowable carbs for some popular diets:

Keto Diet - 20-50 carbs per day.  If you don't have many other carbs 6g from the chayote is not so bad.

Atkins Low Carb Diet - 20 - 25 carbs per day.  You may want to keep this vegetable portion down to 1/2 cup 1" cubes.

Paleo - Paleo diet doesn't have such a restriction on non-starchy vegetable carbs.  You can pretty much eat all the chayote you want.

More About Chayote - Charles Holtz

My father-in-law was a writer and he contributed this about the Chayote:

THE CHAYOTE - WHAT'S THE EXCITEMENT? Charles Holtz

There aren't too many vegetables that literally can be eaten in their entirety, but the chayote (Sechium edule) truly has some­thing for everyone - sort of the "Platypus of the plant world". From first glance you'll find this cucurbit intriguing.  First of all, the one-to-two pound fruits are borne very late in the season,-October and November, when anyself-respecting squash would have given up long ago.  Then, as the frosts arrive, the vines die-back to the ground, like a potato, while the tuber remains underground, and new shoots sprout from it every spring.  With cucumber-like leaves and tendrils, the new vines quickly head upward, clambering over fences, buildings or trees, — often reaching 40 to 50 feet per season.  The insignificant pale-green flowers are borne in the leaf axils, usual­ly clusters of male blossoms alternating with solitary or double female blossoms. You can easily see the tiny fruits behind the female flowers, just as with cucumbers, but this won't take place until late September or October.  Then within a few weeks, you'll see many of the lettuce-green fruits, and unless you somehow pick them or knock them down, they'll hang on until high winds may dis­lodge them. Even while on the vine, some of these 4 to 5-inch fruits may begin to sprout, and while they will store very well indoors over the winter and early spring, the new sprouts and roots will gradually grew, similar to the behavior of potatoes. Here, however, there is a single integral almond-size seed in the larger end of the fruit, where both stem and root formation begin.

Grow Your Own Chayote

Now that you have the urge, let's start to grow your own. To be on the safe side, 2 or more plants might aid in cross-pollination, but our single 15-year old plant has never failed to bear. The fruits can be bought from many California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana markets, and you may be lucky enough to find one with an already-sprouted embryo. Since this will probably be in the winter or early spring, it's wisest to start your plant indoors. Fill a 6 or 8" pot with moistened planter mix or garden loam and make a slight indentation on the surface in which to place the large, or sprouting end of the fruit. The chayote is sometimes called the "vegetable-pear", and like the pear, the chayote hangs from the smaller (stem) end. In planting, then, incline the fruit so that the stem-end will remain somewhat higher and uncovered, while the large sprouting end will be covered by the planting medium.

Signs of growth may take a few weeks. Keep by a sunny window or under plant lights, and maintain a moist, but not wet, soil. When danger of frost has passed, the contents of the pot, including the by-now shriveling fruit should be carefully transferred to your garden, choosing a sunny spot with plenty of room for climbing. You can expect 25 to 50 feet of growth each year, bearing several dozen fruit annually. Once established, the tuber can withstand climates where the ground doesn't freeze more than an inch or so, and farther north, it can be raised as an annual screening vine. Our own tuber has survived temperatures to 15 degrees without ill effects. The tuber contin­ues to grow underground and sometimes additional tubers form in warmer climates, so you won't want the plant to grow in too con­gested an area.

Other Names and Uses For Chayote

The chayote fruit is prized in Latin America where it may be called Christophine, Chuchu, Cahiota or Huisquil. In the Philippines is called Sayote and in Louisiana, it may also be called Mirliton, but by whatever name, it certainly is a unique one-seeded cucurbit. The tubers, too, are harvested in the Tropics, where they are used as potatoes, and the young shoots and leaves are often cooked as one would spinach or asparagus. The fruits themselves are excellent, boiled like zucchini, once the rather tough skin has been peeled off. Their flavor is mild yet distinctive, and they are excellent whether stuffed, used in soups or stews. Young fruits can be used for pickles, or an- salads, like cucumbers. They can be sliced for dip "chips", and the seed itself tastes not unlike a blanched almond!  Spin cookery can convert chayotes into "fruit" pie with the help of a bit of spice and honey or sugar, and nothing could taste better than a zucchini or carrot cake, unless it could be Chayote Cake.

Little wonder there's so much interest in this relative of the cucumber. You really can eat the whole darn thing, but remem­ber, - if you do eat that tuber, well, this is the bottom line, and you'll have to begin all over again back on Line One!

Nutrition Information For Learn About Chayote Squash

Serving Size
1 cup (1" pieces)
 
Calories
25
Calories from Fat
0
 
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 3mg
0%
Potassium
165g
0%
Total Carbohydrate 6g
0%
Dietary Fiber 2g
10%
Sugars 2g
Protein 1g
0%
 
Vitamin A  0% Vitamin C  0%
Calcium  0% Iron  0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Convert Chayote From Grams To Cups

Use our handy calculator to convert any ingredient from grams to cups, teaspoons, tablespoons.

Substitutions

You can substitute zucchini or most any summer squash in a recipe that calls for chayote.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.