Chowing on Chayotes

Chayotes (Sechium edule), also known as custard marrows, chow-chows, alligator pears, sayotes, christophenes or christophines, cho-chos, mirlitons or merletons, chuchus, cidras, guatilas, centinarjas, pipinolas, pear squashes, vegetable pears, chouchoutes, chokos, güisquils, labu siams, and ishkus are edible plants belonging to the family Cucurbitaceae, along with melons, cucumbers, and squash.

Chayotes originated in Central America, and specifically in the region lying between what is now southern Mexico and Guatemala. They were cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans. Their common name, which is Spanish, derives from the Nahuatl name chayotl. The Mayans added chayote shoots (as a green) to beans and also ate the fruit and the starchy roots.

Chayotes were introduced into the Antilles and South America between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Patrick Browne (1720–1790) was an Irish physician and botanist who settled in Jamaica in 1746. His major work, The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica (1756), illustrated by the botanic artist Georg Dionysius Ehret contains new names for 104 genera, including Sechium for the chocho he found growing in Jamaica at the time, which was being exported to North American markets along the eastern seaboard. During this same period, chayotes were introduced into Europe, from which it was taken to Africa, Asia and Australia. In Louisiana, where chayotes are known as merlitons, they have been a basic ingredient in creole dishes since the 18th century.

Chayotes were grown along the coast of the United States as far north as Charleston, South Carolina, well into the 1850s, especially by people of African descent. The Civil War completely disrupted their cultivation. Chayotes were grown in New Orleans as early as 1867, and the city is virtually the only major urban area in North America where chayotes were cultivated. The proximity to the Caribbean and the large migrations from that area, as well as the banana trade, probably contributed to their popularity.

In the 1920s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to introduce chayotes as a truck-farm product under the name Vegetable Pear to a broader public. The project, based in Homestead, Florida, used varieties imported from Cuba. That project ultimately failed because most U.S. consumers had no idea what this odd vegetable was, and lack of consumer demand ended the federally funded project. In North America, mirlitons remained popular only in Louisiana for many decades.

Chayotes now play a part in cuisines and cultures throughout the world. Because they originated in Mesoamerica, chayote plants grow best in semi-tropical climates, although they have adapted to a number of growing conditions in warmer climates. The largest source of chayotes continues to be Central America, including Costa Rica, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala.

Chayotes can:

  1. Prevent cardiovascular disease. Chayotes are an excellent source of folate, and a good source of vitamin B6, both of which help prevent homocystein build-up in your blood and reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Vitamin K in chayotes helps prevent calcification of your arteries. Potassium and magnesium in chayotes keep your heart rhythm steady.
  2. Prevent cancer. Chayotes are a very good source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that protects your cells from damage caused by free radicals, and that may slow or possibly prevent the development of cancer. Manganese in chayotes is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Vitamin K in chayotes provides possible protection against liver and prostate cancer.
  3. Help you feel energetic. Folate in chayotes supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Manganese in chayotes facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism to give you energy. Copper in chayotes helps produce red and white blood cells and triggers the release of iron to form hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen around your body. Potassium in chayotes regulates muscle contraction and nerve transmission, stores carbohydrates for muscles to use as fuel, and promotes regular muscle growth, and maintains proper electrolyte and acid-base (pH) balance. Vitamin B6 in chayotes supports a wide range of activities in your nervous system and promotes proper breakdown of sugars and starches. Magnesium in chayotes helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.
  4. Prevent constipation. The fiber in chayotes promotes bowel regularity.
  5. Promote thyroid health. The copper in chayotes is linked to thyroid metabolism, especially in hormone production and absorption.
  6. Prevent acne. Chayotes are a good source of zinc, a mineral which has shown to influence hormones which controls the production of oil in the skin.
  7. Prevent bone loss. Folate in chayotes helps prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures. Manganese in chayotes facilitates formation of bone. Vitamin K in chayotes helps protect your bones from fracture and helps prevent postmenopausal bone loss. Potassium in chayotes maintains the density and strength of bones by decreasing urinary calcium loss. Magnesium in chayotes keeps bones strong.
  8. Reduce blood pressure. Potassium in chayotes lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance. Magnesium in chayotes also promotes normal blood pressure.
  9. Promote brain health. Folate in chayotes helps prevent dementias including Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin B6 in chayotes helps improve memory performance in some age groups.
  10. Prevent muscle cramps. Potassium and magnesium in chayotes help regulate muscle contractions and can help prevent muscle cramps.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Raw Chayote

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

folate

93 µg

23%

vitamin C

7.7 mg

13%

manganese

0.2 mg

9%

fiber

1.7 g

7%

copper

0.1 mg

6%

vitamin K

4.1 µg

5%

zinc

0.7 mg

5%

potassium

125 mg

4%

vitamin B6

0.1 mg

4%

magnesium

12 mg

3%

phosphorus

18 mg

2%

calcium

17 mg

2%

carbohydrates

4.5 g

2%

protein

0.8 g

2%

niacin

0.5 mg

2%

iron

0.3 mg

2%

pantothenic acid

0.2 mg

2%

riboflavin

0.029 mg

2%

thiamine

0.025 mg

2%

vitamin E

0.1 mg

1%

Calories

19

0.95%

selenium

0.4 µg

0.285%

fat

0.1 g

0.15%

sodium

2 mg

0.083%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

Chayotes are eaten throughout the world, although they are not as well known in the United States. Although there are many different varieties of chayotes, the most commonly found is pear-shaped and pale green. They are being cultivated in Florida, California, and Louisiana. Chayotes are becoming more popular in the U.S. and your can find them in many large markets and Latino grocery stores.  Chayotes are commonly found in supermarkets during peak season (December to March), but may be found in larger supermarkets and specialty markets throughout the year.

Select small, firm, smooth, unwrinkled, and unblemished chayotes that are heavy for their size. Avoid very wrinkled chayotes because that indicates that they are old and have become dry and tough. Tender skin that reacts to pressure often means poor quality. Some people score the flesh of the chayotes with their fingernails to test for ripeness, so be wary of such marks when selecting a chayote.

Refrigerate whole chayotes for up to one month. Refrigerate cut chayote in a covered container for 3 to 5 days. It is best to use chopped chayote immediately, as it can gather flavors from other foods stored in the refrigerator.

Use raw chayotes in 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.

Cook chayotes as you would summer squash. You can even substitute chayotes for summer squash in most recipes. They can be added to casseroles, dressings, prepared au gratin, pickled, fried, or stuffed.

Although not as popular as the fruit, the roots and leaves of the chayote plant are also edible. Cooked the leaves like mustard or collard greens. The root of the chayote plant is is a tuber with brown skin called chinchayote in Mexico. Cook them like potatoes: boil them in their skin, then peel and serve with a little salt or gravy.

Try chayotes in one of the following recipes:


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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