Looking like a yellow-green pear, tasting mildly sweet, and offering a crisp texture, the chayote is a one of a kind squash. Pronounced “chi-oh-tay”, this fruit is known by many names such as vegetable pear, christophine, chocho, and mirliton. It is a member of the vast Cucurbitaceae Family (cucumber family), which also includes cucumbers, watermelons, zucchinis, and pumpkins.
The chayote, (Sechium edule) originates from Mexico and Central America and its history of cultivation begins in pre-Columbian times. As a perennial, it is now grown in tropical areas all the way up to the plant hardiness zone 7. To grow in cooler climates, cultivate the plant in containers and move them inside and out according to temperature. However, container grown chayotes may not produce as much as their garden grown counterparts.
Another option is to start the plant indoors and replant outside when the weather is warm enough. However, this option requires you to replant each year. Allowing chayotes to receive 150 days of growing time, and 30 days of fruit production time after blooming, will allow for a bountiful crop of delightful squash.
Planting chayote outdoors can begin in late winter or early spring, as soon as all frost risks have passed in your area. When planting your crop, choose a location that receives sun for a good part of the day. However, don’t let the chayote become scorched or dried out by summer winds. Offering partial protection will increase the survivability of your plant. Since this is a vine plant, provide your chayote a sturdy trellis to climb and allow it to create a canopy. This will increase its fruit production and allow it to create some of its own protection from sun and wind.
For more on trellises click here: https://www.permaculturenews.org/2012/03/29/trellises-for-your-summer-food-crops/
The chayote needs to be planted as a whole fruit, due to the fact that the seed germinates within the fruit. You can usually find chayotes in your local supermarket or in many Latin markets. Look to purchase them in the fall and let them sit in cool place until late winter or early spring when you will then plant the whole thing. If you would like more than one chayote plant you will need to buy and plant multiple squash, as there is only one seed per fruit.
To plant the chayote in your garden, dig a 5-6” hole and place the fruit in at a slanted positon (with the stem pointed up and at ground level). Place each planting 12” apart. Keep your plant’s soil moist and slightly acidic (pH 5-6).
As your plants grow, watch for insects and mildews that can harm your growing crop. Prevention of pests and disease is best. This can be accomplished by not allowing plants to stand in water and by adding plants to your garden layout that keep harmful insects away, yet invite predatory species in. These can include many herbs, marigolds, and yarrow. If you find you have mildew, remove damaged portions of plant and spray the remaining plant with a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda to every 1 quart of water.
Once you have grown and harvested your chayote crop it is time to enjoy it. While the fruit is the part of the plant that is most notably consumed, some also use the root, seeds, shoots, flowers, leaves, and stems for food and/or medicinal purposes.
If eating the fruit, the chayote offers some substantial nutritional benefits. 1 chayote squash (~203 grams) offers 39 calories, 0 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, and 9 grams of carbohydrates (3 grams of which is dietary fiber). The chayote is a very good source of vitamins C, K-1, and folate (B-9), zinc, copper, and manganese. It is also a good source of niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), magnesium, and potassium. The chayote also offers some iron, B-6, thiamin (B-1), and riboflavin (B-2).
The fruit and leaves of chayote are used in some areas as blends and teas to alleviate constipation and bloating. They are also used to help reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and treat kidney stones and arthrosclerosis. Due to the soft nature of the chayote’s flesh, some cultures use it as baby food.
If you would like to use the chayote at your next meal there are several options you can try. Simply peeling and chopping up the fruit makes it ready to toss into your favorite salad or salsa, no cooking required. However, if you do prefer to cook the chayote here is delicious soup recipe you can try:
Recipe adapted from modestalmond: Allrecipes.com
2 cups chicken stock or broth (preferably homemade)
1-2 tablespoons butter (preferably grass-fed*)
1 medium organic onion (chopped)
3 cloves organic garlic (smashed and chopped)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 chayotes (peeled and chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons organic fresh cilantro (finely chopped)
In a large saucepan melt butter over medium heat
Add onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper
Cook until onion is soft and mixture is fragrant, stirring occasionally
Add squash, cilantro, and salt and pepper
Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
Slowly and carefully add in the chicken stock/broth
Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes
Carefully pour the mixture into a blender and puree until smooth. (Do this in 2-3 batches if needed)
Loosely cover the blender, but do not put the lid on tight. Allow heat to escape while blending or it could “explode” out of the blender
Start the blender on slow/low and incrementally increase speed
Pour into bowls and garnish with any extra sprigs of cilantro if desired
Serve and enjoy
*When making any recipe always aim to use organic and sustainable products. This will improve your health, as well as the health and wellbeing of the animals raised, and the environment we all live in. For some additional reading on these topics click here: https://www.permaculturenews.org/2016/06/30/permaculture-practices-incas/
There are some things to be cautious of when working with chayotes in the kitchen. Chayotes can ooze a clear latex-like liquid that, for some, can create a tingling sensation on any skin areas it touches. The tingling sensation will abate and does not cause permanent damage, but can be uncomfortable. If you come into contact with the chayote liquid, wash your hands thoroughly. To help prevent contact, wear gloves when preparing chayote and rinse the chayote under running water once peeled. Also, some chayote may have prickly spines on the skin. Be careful of these. To remove them, scrub vigorously under running water with a textured sponge.
Enjoy the Distinctiveness of Chayote
The chayote, with abundant health benefits and the matchless taste that is compared to everything from cucumbers and zucchinis, to apples and almonds, is definitely a unique and wonderful fruit to try in your cooking endeavors. Its pear-like features, and beautiful winding vines, make it a garden novelty worth the space you offer it in your yard. So growing climate or supermarket permitting, I hope the chayote works its way into your growing space and kitchen table.
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Martin, A. May 20, 2015. Permaculture Research Institute. Feeding the “Whole” Cow and Chicken. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2015/05/20/feeding-the-whole-cow-and-chicken/
Modestalmomd.2017. Allrecipes.com. Chayote Soup. https://allrecipes.com/recipe/156544/chayote-soup/
Natural Resource Conservation. US Department of Agriculture. Sechium edule (Jacq.) Sw. Chayote. https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SEED
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Soleil, S. March 29, 2012. Permaculture Research Institute. Trellises for Your Summer Food Crops. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2012/03/29/trellises-for-your-summer-food-crops/
Thompson, D. SFGate. Home Guides. Garden. Garden Care. The Propagation of Chayote Plants. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/propagation-chayote-plants-38224.html
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