What the Food?

Typically when thinking of squash, large vegetables tend to come to mind, but the chayote is not your typical acorn, butternut, or even spaghetti squash.

Sometimes called a pear squash, or mirliton, chayote (pronounced chai ow tay) is actually a member of the cucumber family. It is a fast-growing climbing vine with characteristic tendrils. It bears small white unisexual flowers which become green fruit. Each fruit grows to three to four inches long and is shaped similarly to a pear, with what looks like furrows or dimples on its widest end. Unlike a pear that is somewhat round and tapered, you wouldn’t be able to stand a chayote on its end, due to those furrows. Usually the green skin is smooth, but there are varieties with hairy or spiny skins.

Most often chayote fruit is cooked. When cooked, chayote is usually handled like summer squash, generally lightly cooked to retain the crispy consistency. Its taste is mild, and is somewhat between an apple and a cucumber. It can be sliced and slightly roasted, stir-fried, or lightly steamed. The skin is edible, but many choose to peel the skin as it is not as tender as the flesh. The seed that is inside the fruit can also be eaten.

The root, stem, seeds, and leaves are edible as well. The tubers of the plant are eaten like potatoes, while the shoots and leaves are often consumed in salads and stir fries, especially in Asia.

Though not common, raw chayote may be added to salads or salsas, most often marinated with lemon or lime juice. Whether raw or cooked, chayote is a good source of vitamin C.

The plant originated in Mesoamerica but is now found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. It appears in Cajun, Caribbean, Latin American, North African, Australian, and Asian cuisines.

A few fun facts: the vines of the chayote plant are durable but flexible, and are sometimes used in the making of hats and baskets; the word for chayote in Brazil is “chuchu” (or “xuxu”), which is also an affectionate name for someone such as “cutie” or “sweetie”; from 1989 to 2015, a neighborhood in New Orleans had an annual entire festival dedicated to chayotes but after a few years of bad weather, the Mirliton Festival hasn’t been able to regain its momentum.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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