Chayote (pronounced chahy-oh-tee) is a light green, pear-shaped fruit with a single, large pit and edible flesh and skin. The flesh of the chayote is mild in flavor. It has a texture somewhere in between a potato and cucumber. Although technically a fruit, chayote is often used more like a vegetable in Latin cuisine.
What Is It?
These tropical fruits, a member of the gourd family, are native to Mexico but are now cultivated in warm climates worldwide. Chayote is a popular ingredient in Central American cuisine, as well as in food prepared in the southern United States, usually in Latin American cuisine.
Also known as pear squash, mirlitons, cho-cho, chouchoute, cidra, tayota, or choko, depending on where in Central America you travel, chayote is used for a variety of purposes including cooking and eating them raw as a light snack.
Chayote has a high water and fiber content and is relatively low in natural sugars, making them fairly low in calories compared to other fruit. Also, chayote is prized for being high in potassium, vitamin C, and amino acids.
The leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular, and anti-inflammatory properties. A tea made from the chayote plant's leaves has been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis, hypertension, and kidney stones.
Its mild flesh lends itself to a variety of uses and seasoning possibilities. Chayote can be eaten raw, too, and peeling is generally not required. When eaten raw, chayote is often added to salads and salsas to provide a crisp, apple-like crunch. Chayotes can also be marinated lightly with citrus juice and salt for a simple snack.
When cooked, chayote is treated very similarly to summer squash, and it is a suitable substitute for summer squash in most recipes. Chayote can be added to casseroles, dressings, prepared au gratin, boiled, mashed, baked, pickled, fried, sautéed, or stuffed. On menus in the southern U.S., you might see mirlitons stuffed with shrimp or oyster dressing as a popular dish, particularly in the fall and winter months.
Although not as popular as the fruit, the root and leaves of this plant are also edible. The root can be prepared in a similar manner to potatoes and the leaves can be cooked like mustard or collard greens.
Buying and Storing
Across the southern United States, chayote (or mirliton) can be purchased in most markets during the winter months; supplies during the rest of the year may vary. In other areas of the country, the availability of chayote may be limited to specialty grocers and ethnic markets, particularly those specializing in Mexican or Central American products.
When purchasing chayote, look for fruit that is firm to the touch and has smooth, bright skin. Deep wrinkles or furrows are normal on the surface of chayote. The skin should not be loose or excessively wrinkled.
After purchasing, chayote should be stored in the refrigerator, lightly wrapped for up to four weeks, depending on the freshness at the time of purchase. Sliced or cut chayote should be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container and used within three to five days.