Chayotes (pronounced chahy-oh-tee) are a light green, pear-shaped fruit with a single, large pit and edible flesh and skin. The flesh of the chayote is mild in flavor and has a texture somewhere between a potato and cucumber.
These tropical fruits are native to Mexico but are now cultivated in warm climates worldwide. Chayotes are a popular ingredient in Central American cuisine, as well as in food prepared in the Southern United States, though to a notably lesser extent to that of Latin American cuisine.
Also known as pear squash, mirletons, cho-cho, chouchoute, or choko, depending on where in Central America you travel, chayotes are used for a variety of purposes including cooking and eating them raw as a light snack.
Chayotes have a high water and fiber content and are relatively low in natural sugars, making them fairly low in calories compared to other fruit. Chayotes are also prized for being high in potassium and amino acids.
How to Properly Use Chayotes
Although technically a fruit, chayotes are often used more like a vegetable in Latin cuisine. Their mild flesh lends itself to a variety of uses and seasoning possibilities as chayotes can be eaten raw as well as cooked and peeling is generally not required.
When eaten raw, chayotes are often added to 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 on their own.
When cooked, chayotes are treated very similarly to summer squash and are a suitable substitute for summer squash in most recipes. They can be added to casseroles, dressings, prepared au gratin, pickled, fried or stuffed. Mirletons stuffed with shrimp or oyster dressing are a popular dish in the southern United States, particularly in the fall and winter months.
Although not as popular as the fruit, the root and leaves of this plant are also edible. The root can be prepared in a similar manner to potatoes and the leaves can be cooked like mustard or collard greens.
How to Select the Right Chayote in Stores
Across the southern United States, chayotes (or mirletons) can be purchased in most markets during the winter months, but supplies during the rest of the year may vary. In other areas of the country, the availability of chayotes may be limited to specialty grocers and ethnic markets, particularly those specializing in Mexican or Central American products.
When purchasing a chayote, look for fruit that is firm to the touch and has smooth, bright skin. Deep wrinkles or furrows are normal on the surface of chayotes but the skin should not be loose or excessively wrinkled.
After purchasing, chayotes should be stored in the refrigerator, lightly wrapped for up to four weeks, depending on the freshness at the time of purchase. Sliced or cut chayotes should be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container and used within three to five days.