Have you heard of chayote fruit? Perhaps its a family favorite, a staple in your native culture. Or perhaps you have never heard of it at all! Chayote grows best in warm, tropical and subtropical climates. Of Central American origin, Chayote also flourishes in California, Florida, the Philippines, the Gulf Coast, Australia, China, and Southeast Asia.

We have recently begun experimenting with chayote in Hawaii. We’re excited enough about the results that we want to share more about the chayote fruit!

The Origins of Chayote

Sechium edule, commonly known as “chayote,” is a member of the squash family that originated in Central America. Though food historians have yet to uncover evidence of the first instance of chayote cultivation, they do know that it was a favorite of the Aztecs, who referred to it as “chayoti.” The versatile and satiating vegetable was also a staple food in Mayan culture and thus remains central to modern Central American cuisine.

Explorers and merchants introduced chayote to the Old World in the 15thcentury as part of the Columbian Exchange. The vegetable has since assumed many names and uses, and today it is propagated in several parts of the world. Here in Hawaii, natives referred to the vegetable as “pipinola.”

Preparing Chayote

Chayote is a light green, pear-shaped vegetable. Though its skin is thin and smooth, its many indentations lend the chayote a rough texture. The skin contains latex, which can cause skin irritation and peeling upon removal. Thus, most chayote recipes call for either removing or cooking the skin before consuming.

When raw, chayote is refreshingly crunchy, like a slightly tougher zucchini or cucumber. When chayote is young, you can use it like a cucumber and eat it raw in salads or with dips. Aging chayote is best cooked, as it becomes tougher as it matures. The fruit of the chayote cooks much like zucchini and is excellent in stir-fries, soups, and curries. One Latin American favorite calls for chayote in a sweet pie, much like a classic American pumpkin pie.

Our favorite methods of preparing chayote including picking it with eggplant and orange rinds; using it as a substitute for zucchini in ratatouille; and incorporating it into a broad array of Asian and southeast Asian cuisine.

Though we are partial to consuming the chayote fruit, every single part of the chayote plant is edible. You can roast chayote seeds the same way you would pumpkin seeds for a salty, crunchy snack. The tubers of the plant make excellent substitutes for potatoes and other root vegetables. And you can prepare the vines and leaves in the same way you would prepare spinach or asparagus, by roasting or sautéing.

Growing Chayote

In the past year, we have begun experimenting with growing chayote and are exuberantly enjoying the results.

To grow chayote, you must first obtain a sprouting fruit. We initially planted our sprouting chayote fruits in pots with the large, round ends downward and the narrow ends breaching the soil. We then removed them from their pots and planted them at a depth of approximately 8 inches.

From the first chayote fruit will sprout a perennial vine from which other chayote will grow. A single, highly productive vine is capable of producing over 100 chayote fruits, but only when granted ample vertical space. The tenacious tendrils of the plant will climb trees, bushes—anything tall and in close proximity. To protect the health of our other plants, we grow chayote on trellises. We create trellises for chayote by placing horizontal lengths of bamboo between adjacent papaya trees at 5 feet in height.

The vines will flower first and then begin to produce fruit. The fruit can grow to be 4-6 inches long and up to two pounds. Every spring, new vines will grow from the initial tuber to continue to produce fruit before dying off again in the winter season.

Chayote requires rich soil, ample sun, and efficient drainage, which is why it grows so beautifully in Hawaii. Because the climatic difference between Hawaiian winters and summers is far less drastic than that between winters and summers in other areas, we have greater flexibility in terms of when we can plant chayote. In the areas of the country where chayote production is most abundant, i.e. Louisiana, California, Florida, and Texas, chayote vines typically grow in the spring and produce fruit by October or November.

Health Benefits of Chayote

Chayote fruit boasts many of the same health benefits as other water-dense, low sugar, high fiber vegetables. Because it contains both water and fiber, chayote encourages efficient elimination, thereby promoting a healthy metabolism. It is an excellent low-calorie replacement for starchy, calorie dense vegetables like potatoes. And it adds bulk to meals without contributing a significant number of calories, easing calorie reduction and thus promoting weight loss.

Chayote also contains several essential nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, choline, Vitamin C, and phosphorus. Its impressive folate content renders it an excellent addition to the diets of pregnant women. It also boasts incredible anti-inflammatory properties, combatting free radical damage to prevent chronic disease, aging, and even cancer cell growth!

Finally, the chayote plant has medicinal applications in many traditions. Common among these is the creation of a tea from the leaves to treat kidney stones, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis.

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