For a single ingredient, chayote squash, a member of the gourd family, is known by quite a few unique names that include: choko, mango squash, vegetable pear, mirliton, Mexican pear squash, cho-cho, and tayota are just a few.
Whatever name you use, it is versatile, nutritious, and well worth getting to know better.
What Is Chayote?
Chayote (sechium edule) pronounced “chi-yo-tay,” is a type of squash that falls into the category of fruits, much like the tomato, but is treated as a vegetable in the kitchen. You might even hear it called a chayote fruit.
Chayote plants grow on climbing vines, originated in Mexico, and are now grown all over the world in warm climates and are members of the gourd family. They are seen in dishes throughout Central and South American cuisines.
They are pear-shaped, but a bit larger than the pear you are envisioning in your head and take on various shades of pale green. The skin of each fruit is somewhat bumpy skin that is perfectly edible and packed with nutrients. The flesh of the fruit sits around a single, large pit. They look wrinkly.
What does Chayote Taste Like?
In terms of flavor, the chayote is rather mild. Think of a less cucumbery, cucumber mixed with slightly less sweet spaghetti squash. Sweet, but juicy and fresh.
The texture is similar to an unripe pear with lots of juicy crunch and crispness.
Where Can I Buy Chayote?
Finding chayote might depend on your region and/or your grocery store. Many specialty grocers (think Whole Foods and the like) will have them in their produce departments. Farmer’s markets are also a great bet.
When you are looking to buy ripe chayote, be sure to grab the ones with the smooth, firm, bright green skin. Deep grooves are part of the way it grows on the vine, but excessive amounts of wrinkles are a sign that it is past the prime time to eat it. I think it is best to store lightly wrapped in the refrigerator.
How Do I Eat Chayote?
The entirety of the chayote is edible from the skin on the outside to the flesh on the inside, to the pit in the center if you truly want to be resourceful. Different cultures enjoy it in different dishes and different preparations, but it is a great addition to both sweet and savory dishes. They can be enjoyed raw or cooked.
How Do I Cook With Chayote?
Raw chayote is often incorporated into salads and salsas. It’s mild taste and crisp, apple-like crunch make it perfect for many dishes. Some will even give it a squeeze of citrus and a pinch of salt for a simple and nutritious snack.
In terms of cooking, think of it like you would any other summer squash. Think grilled, baked, gratin, sauteed, fried, stuffed, mashed, boiled, pickled, and more. If you can dream it up, you can make it happen.
Health Benefits of Chayote
Each fruit is high in water content, high in fiber content, and low in sugar. They also tout high levels of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B, antioxidants, and amino acids.
What Can I Substitute for Chayote?
If you can’t get your hands on chayote, you can substitute it for almost any summer squash whether it be green or yellow zucchini, pattypan squash, eight ball squash, or crookneck squash.
Like many squash, they are best in a chilled environment, although they can be left at room temperature for a few days. They also crave humidity.
To prevent drying out, place the chayote in an airtight container or plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a month.