The Chayote Gourd: Vitamin C

Vitamin C & the chayote gourd, where it is commonly grown, popular uses for it & its nutritional qualitites.

The chayote (pronounced chy-O-tay) is a member of the gourd family and is a variety of tropical squash. It was originally cultivated as a dietary staple in Central America by the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Chayote has a mild taste, similar to a cucumber or zucchini. It is often sold in stores under different names including mirliton, vegetable pear, sapote, huisquil, mango squash, pear squash, custard marrow, pipinella, cho cho, xu-xu, fut shau kua, ngow-lai choi, tsai hsio li, hayato uri, and tao tah. Currently, chayote is popularly grown in Costa Rica and Mexico. It is also grown in the United States in California and Florida.

Although chayote can be purchased year round it is most commonly available during the months of September through May. Additionally, it can be found in many ethnic grocery stores such as Latin American, Asian, and Indian. It is also beginning to appear in many well-known supermarkets as consumers become aware of it cooking diversity as well as its health benefits. For example, chayote provides a good source of vitamin C. While the chayote gourd itself is most commonly sold in stores, occasionally the gourd will be sold along with the vines on which it was grown. The tips of these vines can be eaten as well, and are used to make a salad.

You can identify a chayote by its resemblance to a large pear. Additionally, its skin is colored creamy-white or light green. Although it usually has a smooth skin, some chayotes may have prickles on them. Chayotes can weigh anywhere from eight ounces to five pounds. They also range in length from three to eight inches. Typically, the smaller chayotes are what you will find at a market. Besides being high in vitamin C, the chayote is low in calories (50 calories per one medium chayote of approximately 203 grams), low in sodium, contains no cholesterol, and is a good source of fiber. The chayote is also versatile to cook with because it can be eaten raw, used in salads, or it can be fried, baked, broiled, sautéed, steamed, mashed, or microwaved. It can also be used as an ingredient in soups and stews.

When purchasing a chayote, select only those that are firm to the touch and have little or no surface marks on them. After purchasing the chayote, you can store it for up to seven days in your home, before using it, as long as you keep the chayote refrigerated. Note that when using the chayote, the whole chayote is edible, including the skin and soft seed inside. You also do not need to peel the chayote's skin before using it.

Some typical uses for chayote include sautéing small chayote chunks in onions and fresh herbs or in broth and a little oil and serving it as a side dish. You can also stuff the chayote with a mixture of ground meat and bake it in the oven as a main dish. Many people also like to add marinated, cooked chayote to a salad comprised of tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Because chayote has a mild flavor, it can be used in a variety of recipes.

The increase usage of chayote in the United States has proved that this gourd is gaining in cooking popularity. Additionally, the chayote will continue to be a healthy staple to the diet of many international consumers.

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