Chayotes (S. edule
) belong to the Cucurbitaceae
family. Their name derives from the Nahuatl hitzayotli
, meaning “spiny squash,” later chayotli
, and finally chayote
. Mexico is the species’ center of origin and domestication.
have no data with regard to how long ago chayote was first cultivated, since its fruits are fleshy, with a single pit and a soft texture—qualities that make it unfit for preservation. Pollen or other species features have not been identified among archaeological remains.
references alongside distribution of the chayote’s wild relatives confirm the crop’s Mesoamerican origins. The chayote’s introduction into the West Indies and South America took place between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; it reached Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia at the same time. The chayote reached the United States at the end of the nineteenth century.
plants are climbers endowed with a thick root called a chinchayote
; thin stems, rough, angled leaves, tendrils, yellow male and green female flowers, and fleshy fruits of almost oval or round shape, not unlike a pear. They vary by size, color, presence or absence of spines on the skin, according to the variety; their pulp is whitish to light green; wild plants taste bitter, but cultivated varieties are in fact very palatable, and feature ovoid shaped seeds as well as soft skin. Consumption of the plants’ various parts is similar to the case of squash.
Mexico grows chayote in large quantities to meet demand occasioned by its nutrients and medicinal properties. The Center Gulf Region is a leading producer of smooth-skin, spineless chayote, and their most productive season lasts from September to March.
Temporalities vary according to climate zone, fruit variety and intended use; in general, February to April and May to August offer enhanced production levels and better overall harvests.
With regard to the nutritional content of the chayote’s edible parts, there is less fiber, protein and vitamins than in other vegetables. Caloric and carbohydrate values are high in tender stems, roots and seeds. Fruits, especially seeds, are rich in amino acids, proteins, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin A, soluble sugar and water. Because of these properties chayote can form part of a low-calorie diet.
Three types of chayote are eaten in Mexico: white or yellow chayotes, small in size, spineless and with slightly thick skin, are consumed in the Southern Highlands and Gulf regions as an ingredient in broths, stews or with salsas; as a base for soups; and they can be stuffed or made into patties, added to salads or served as side dishes. Spineless green chayote is the most widely consumed variety throughout Mexico, and erizo or espino chayotes, with thick, spiky skins, are consumed in various regions of the country, but mainly in the Central Highlands; these last are prepared like white chayote. Chayote can also be made into a children’s porridge or juice.
Chayote root, known as chinchayote, is cooked for use in breaded patties, can be incorporated into stews, or be eaten with nothing more than a bit of salt.
A number of projects have been undertaken in Mexico to increase the chayote’s shelf life by means of dehydration, and has led to chayote jam production as well as large chayote leaves that can be used as vegetables after a certain time.
Chayote stems, in addition to being eaten, are used for the manufacture of baskets and hats.
In traditional medicine, chayote leaves and seeds are taken as infusions, to serve as a diuretic as well as an arteriosclerosis or hypertension treatment.