Chayote, also known as mirliton in the US, is a pear-shaped light green vegetable in the gourd family. It is one of the well-recognized field plants in many mid-American regions and some southern US states like California, Louisiana, and Florida. Some of the common names are mirlitons, vegetable pear, chocho, sayote, christophine,…etc.
Botanically, it belongs to the broad Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family of vegetables, which also includes cucumber, pumpkin, and squash. Scientific name: Sechium edule.
Chayote is a perennial vine that climbs on support by clinging with tenacious tendrils. It requires well-drained moist soil, and long, warm growing season to flourish. At their natural habitat, mirlitons run along over fences, shrubs, and even on straight-up trees. In the cultivated farms, however, the crop is supported by a strong trellis. The vine bears small, white, monoecious (separate male and female) flowers. Chayote is a perennial vine that climbs on support by clinging with tenacious tendrils. It requires well-drained moist soil, and long, warm growing season to flourish. At their natural habitat, mirlitons run along over fences, shrubs, and even on straight-up trees. In the cultivated farms, however, the crop is supported by a strong trellis. The vine bears small, white, monoecious (separate male and female) flowers.
Chayote pears will mature and ready for harvest after about 30 days of pollination. Each plant may yield up to 150 fruits in a season. The fruit has thin, pale green skin and several shallow vertical furrows running over the surface. Some types have spiky or fuzzy surface while others feature smooth skin. Inside, its pale white flesh surrounds a central cream-white seed-ovule.
It features crunchy texture and mildly sweet taste that may be comparable to butternut squash or pumpkin.
Health benefits of chayote
Chayote like pumpkin is one of the vegetables which is very low calories; provide just 16 calories per 100 g and contain no saturated fats or cholesterol. However, it is rich a source of dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins. Being a low-calorie and fiber-rich vegetable; the dieticians often recommend it in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
They are relatively good sources of the B-complex vitamin, folates. 100 g fresh mirliton carries 93 µg or 23% of daily recommended intake. Folates are essential for cell division, and DNA synthesis. When taken adequately before and during early pregnancy, this vitamin can help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn babies.
As in other gourd family vegetables like zucchini, chayote too provides moderate levels of potassium. 100 g fresh fruit contains 125 mg or 2.5% of recommended daily requirements of this electrolyte.
Furthermore, chayote contain small levels of aglycone flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as apigenin and luteolin. These compounds help scavenge harmful oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the body that play a role in cancer, aging, and various disease processes.
Fresh mirliton-pears are adequate sources of antioxidant vitamin-C. Provide about 7.7 mg or 13% of RDA per 100g.
Further, they are also good in a B-complex group of vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and copper.
Selection and storage
Mirlitons begin available in the US markets from October through April; however, they can be found year-round in some Latin American, and Asian markets. While buying, choose medium sized, fresh, apple green color, firm fruits. Large, overmature pears have tough skin and stringy pulp, which may be unappetizing.
Avoid old stock, as they tend to sprout early. Furthermore, look for surface cuts, pits, cracks, or bruise and avoid. Minor superficial scratches and mild bruises that often appear on their surface but are perfectly fine.
At home, place them in paper bag and store inside the vegetable compartment of home refrigerator set at adequate moisture. They may be retained for up to 2-3 weeks. Old and large mirliton pears tend to sprout quite early, so use them as soon as possible.
Preparation and serving methods
Chayote pears have mild sweet taste and crispy texture, the character which makes them suitable for the preparation of raw salads, and slaws.
To prepare, wash chayote thoroughly in cold running water just before cooking. Sometimes its fruits may require light scrub at places where prickles or dirt attached firmly. Trim at stem-end and bases.
Peeling of skin is not required in young, tender pears. However, larger and over-mature fruits need light peeling using a vegetable peeler. Raw chayote exudes a sticky liquid (sap) when peeled that can cause skin irritation and occasionally some numbness in hands and fingers. It may advise to peel them under cold running water or to use protective gloves.
Young tendrils, flower blossoms, as well as its root (tuber) are also being used in cooking.
Here are some serving tips:
Raw mirlitons cut into chunks/cubes are added to fruit and vegetable salads.
Add chopped, julienned thin pieces mixed with cabbage, parsnips, beet to coleslaws.
Stuff chayote pears with seafood or complementing vegetables like sweet pepper, onion, corn, mushroom, and cheese to prepare mouthwatering recipes.
In some South Indian states, it is employed in stir-fries, curry, soups, and stews.
It is used in confectionary to prepare casseroles, pie (New Orleans mirliton pie), cake, bread…etc.
Chayote pears exude clear latex like liquid especially while peeling which can cause peculiar tingling sensation and numbness in handling parts. The sticky fluid is thought to cause some transient anesthetic contact reaction. The reaction is self-limiting and has no long lasting consequences. Its effect can be minimized by using protective gloves or by peeling in cold running water.