Chayote

A.K.A

Mirliton, christophene, vegetable pear, custard marrow, or chocho

What is it?

The unusual-looking vegetable known as chayote (chah-YO-tay) is part of the gourd family, which includes cucumbers, squashes, and melons. In season from September through May (when summer squash is not), chayote is similar in flavor—sweetly fresh, with delicate notes of cucumber—and has a firm, crisp crunch.

Once cultivated by the Aztecs, the chayote fruit (also called christophene, vegetable pear, custard marrow, chocho, and mirliton) is a member of the gourd family, which includes melons, cucumbers, and squash. The perennial climbing vine on which it grows originated in Mesoamerica but is found today in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. Not surprisingly, chayote—which is eaten as a vegetable—appears in Cajun, Caribbean, Latin American, North African, Australian, and Asian cuisines.

Chayotes can be pear-shaped or round, with smooth, hairy, or prickly dark- to lightgreen skin; their pale-green flesh surrounds a flat, edible seed. The chayotes found in the United States are smooth and apple-green on the outside and shaped like a pear, with a furrowed base that looks like a clenched fist.

Their subtle sweetness pairs with assertive flavors like red pepper flakes, fresh chiles, garlic, cilantro, scallions, lemon or lime juice, and warming spices like curry powder, cumin, and coriander. Chayote is also delicious with rich ingredients like coconut milk, butter, cheese, and bacon.

How to choose:

Chayotes may have smooth or spiky skin, but the smooth ones are what you’re likely to find in the United States. Look for chayotes in the produce aisle at the grocery store or in any Asian, Caribbean, or Latin American market. They should feel very firm and heavy for their size and be free of blemishes.

How to prep:

Chayotes have a mild cucumber-like flavor and can be prepared in any way you might use summer squash, raw or cooked.

Chayote skin is edible but not as tender as its flesh, so peeling is usually a good idea. The seed in the center of the fruit is also edible. It’s firm, not crisp like the surrounding flesh, and has a slightly nutty flavor; you can either leave it in or remove it by quartering the chayote and cutting it out, or by halving the fruit and spooning it out.

Prepare chayote the same way you might summer squash or cucumbers. Raw chayotes can be thinly sliced, julienned, or diced and added to salads, slaws, or salsas; they can also be pickled. Quick-cooking them in sautés (see recipe below) and stir-fries keeps chayotes crisp and juicy, but you can also deep-fry, stew, mash, roast, or stuff and bake them like a potato.

How to store:

Refrigerate chayotes in a plastic bag for up to a month.

    Recipes

  • Recipe

    Sautéed Chayote with Sweet Onion and Bacon

    In this quick side dish, the chayote remains crisp and juicy, even as it takes on the rich flavors of garlic and bacon. A hit of lemon juice at the…

  • Recipe

    Grilled Vegetable Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

    Zucchini and the Mexican squash called chayote make up the vegetarian filling for these soft tacos. If you can’t find chayote, substitute additional zucchini and yellow squash.

Imagine a vegetable that is handheld, and very tough, which makes it easy to ship. It is versatile, used in cuisines from Mexican to Indonesian to south Indian to Australian to Louisiana. The entire vegetable is edible — skin, flesh, seeds, shoots, leaves, flowers, and roots. It can be eaten raw or steamed, boiled, baked, stuffed, fried, and marinated. It is quite good for you, and is high in vitamin C, folate, fiber, and various trace minerals.

This vegetable is the chayote, and basically nobody likes it.

The chayote, variously called the laplap, chowchow, mirliton, and Buddha’s hand melon, is a squash, just like zucchini and cucumber, which also means, like all other squashes, it is native to the Americas. More specifically, it is native to central Mexico, where it can be thought of as the Mexican version of zucchini: given the right circumstances, it grows like a crazy weed and produces a huge amount of edible fruit (the squash/melon/gourd family members are all botanically fruits, not vegetables).

Typically a light green, firm fruit, the chayote is shaped a bit like a pear, but with a deep, sort of inappropriate-looking cleft down the middle of it. Some varieties are a darker green and are covered in spikes. I avoid that kind because it clearly does not want me to eat it. It’s not hard to find, at least in grocery stores that stock even the most banal of “ethnic” foods; in Brooklyn, where obviously I live because where else would a shithead like me live, I can find it at supermarkets (Key Foods, Pioneer, etc.) and at my neighborhood’s ethnic markets, which are mostly Jamaican and Panamanian. It costs a dollar or two.

Chayote doesn’t inspire much love. In central Mexico, it is served with mole. That is a dubious honor because mole, the fantastically complex sauce which may or may not contain chocolate, is served with the blandest possible ingredients, with the intention of emphasizing the sauce. Mole is often served with, like, boiled chicken. And chayote.

But I think this is unfair to the chayote, which is a very bizarre and interesting vegetable. Raw, which I would suggest as one of the best ways to eat it, it is not very similar to its sisters, the summer squash. Instead it tastes sort of like a jicama: mildly sweet, incredibly crisp and juicy, somewhere between a potato and an apple, or a crisp pear. But unlike the jicama, which is tan on the outside and pale white on the inside, the chayote has a distinct green-ness to it. It tastes — and I am aware this sounds weird — a little bit like the way freshly mown grass smells. In a good way, I think. It’s very strange.

The chayote, like more popular New World crops (chiles, tomatoes, corn), was exported around the world once the Europeans landed in Mexico, and it can be found in some traditional dishes in the Old World, especially in Southeast Asia. It took to the soil in Australia as if it belonged there all along; it is common in Australia to grow chayote (it’s called “choko” there) right in the yard, against chain-link fences, which the chayote will climb. There’s also a fun rumor in Australia that McDonald’s apple pies were actually made with chayote, partly because the chayote keeps its crisp texture scarily well, even, presumably, while encased in cornstarched applesauce inside a fast food pie. (McDonald’s denies the rumor.)

It’s hard to come up with just a few recipes for the chayote, because it is so versatile. I haven’t even begun to explore all the ways you can cook the thing, partly because I’ve never seen the roots, shoots, or leaves here in New York, even though they’re all edible. But I think it really is an interesting, underused ingredient, especially in slaws and salads, where it can take the place of apples when the apple is out of season. In fact I think it’s better than apples in salads, more vegetal and not so overpoweringly sweet. Anyway here are some things to do with the chayote, which you should buy the next time you see it, because what do you have to lose? Worst case scenario, you can just bite into the thing. It tastes better than you think.

Chayote Tzatziki

Shopping list: Plain Greek yogurt, chayote, garlic, fresh dill, fresh mint, olive oil, lemon

Tzatziki is one of my all-time favorite dip-type things; traditionally it’s made with cucumber, but I actually like it more with chayote, which will not ever become soggy. To make: take a microplane grater (I have this one, it’s great) and grate two to four large cloves of garlic on it until you have a paste. Chop your dill and mint finely (do not use dried herbs for this; you need the natural oils in the fresh herbs to kind of penetrate and be broken down by the yogurt, which won’t happen with dried herbs).

Slice the chayote into small cubes, less than a centimeter on each side. Don’t peel the chayote; the skin may look tough, but it’s very thin and tender. The inner part of the chayote has one large seed and a kind of pale section surrounding it. Remove the seed but don’t worry about the pale part, chop that as you would anything else. (The seed, by the way, is totally edible, so include it if you want.)

Mix a big container of plain Greek yogurt — of the big brands, Fage is best, while Chobani is bullshit — with the chayote, the herbs, and the garlic. Squeeze in about half a lemon’s worth of lemon juice, plus salt and pepper to taste. Pour olive oil over the top. Serve with pita bread or crudite, put it on a burger, spread on a tortilla along with whatever else and make a wrap.

Chayote Som Tam Salad

Shopping list: Chayote, peanuts, garlic, cherry tomatoes, green beans, Thai bird’s-eye chiles, dried shrimp, brown sugar, fish sauce, limes, cilantro
Special equipment: Mortar and pestle

This dish, perhaps the national dish of Thailand, is usually made with green papaya, which I can never, ever find. Know what I can find? Chayote. It is probably the best green papaya replacement I’ve ever used. Everything else about this recipe is super traditional (except I use brown sugar instead of palm sugar, I suppose).

In your mortar and pestle, add a few cloves of garlic and a Thai chile and bash them with the pestle. The Thai style for this is up and down smashing, very different from the against-the-wall-of-the-mortar smushing common in Mexican cooking. (The sound a Thai pestle makes is typically written as “pok pok,” which is where the name of an excruciatingly cool restaurant in Portland and Brooklyn comes from.) When the garlic and chile is basically a rough paste, add in a few dried shrimps. I like the slightly bigger ones, not the teensy baby shrimps, but they work fine too. Then add in a handful of peanuts and bash just a bit more; you want the peanuts to be broken but not a paste.

Slice your chayote into matchsticks. This is sort of a pain. The best option is a julienne blade for a mandoline; they usually come with the mandoline when you buy it. A shredder disc-blade for a food processor will work okay. A knife will of course do the job but will be super slow. Anyway do this, somehow. Toss the chayote matchsticks into the mortar and lightly bruise it with the pestle, kind of tossing it around (a spoon in one hand and pestle in the other will help) to mix everything together.

Make your dressing: sugar, lime juice, fish sauce. The specific ratio will vary based on your limes, on the variety of fish sauce, on how spicy your chiles are that day, all kinds of stuff. Just add and taste: it shouldn’t be too sweet, too sour, or too fishy. When it tastes good, add it to the mortar as well and mix everything together. To serve, mix the salad with a few halved cherry tomatoes, some green beans chopped into inch-long pieces, and top with some cilantro.

Roasted Chayote With Chimichurri
Shopping list: Chayote, olive oil, garlic, red onion, red wine vinegar, serrano chile, cilantro, parsley, oregano, goat cheese

Using that microplane again, grate a few cloves of garlic. Chop about a quarter of the onion as finely as you can, and place the garlic and onion in a glass tupperware. Cover with red wine vinegar and let sit as you do the rest of this.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Cut a few chayotes into cubes, removing the seed, and toss in a lot of olive oil, like, more than you think you need. Maybe a quarter of a cup? Pour this all onto a baking sheet and roast for about half an hour until the chayote is browned and tender (it’ll never get soft).

Take a whole bunch of each of the herbs and chop them roughly. Chop a single serrano, removing the seeds if you don’t want it to be very spicy. Throw that all in a food processor, then dump the vinegar/garlic/onion mix on top. Turn on the food processor and pour olive oil in while it’s processing; this is a very oily sauce, more liquid than a pesto. It should almost look like a chunky herb oil.

When the chayote is done, remove from oven and salt/pepper to taste. Put in a dish and crumble a bunch of goat cheese over the top, then spoon the chimichurri sauce all on top and around. Eat greedily.

I don’t know that a weirdly crispy pear-squash thing that looks like something your fourth grade teacher would hold up during Sex Ed is ever going to be trendy. I can’t remember the last time I saw it on a menu in New York, even though it’s in season basically year-round and goes with any flavor you can throw at it. But that’s almost more of a reason to try the thing. After all, can’t we all kind of identify with the perpetually unloved vegetable?

Photo by debaird

Chayote (mirliton) nutrition facts

Selection and storage

Chayote pears in a market.

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.

Chicken recipe with chayote, broccoli, and red bell pepper.
Photo courtesy: whologwhy

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.

  • In Tamilnadu, it is known as maerakkai (மேரக்காய்) or chow chow, found favorite in lentil-curry (chow chow kootu/ maerakkai kuzhambu) served with steamed ric.

  • It is used in confectionary to prepare casseroles, pie (New Orleans mirliton pie), cake, bread…etc.

Safety profile

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. (Medical disclaimer).

<<-Back to Vegetables from Chayote. Visit here for an impressive list of vegetables with complete illustrations of their nutrition facts and health benefits.

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Further reading and Resources:

  1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

  2. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.

  3. Sechium edule-pdf.

A-Z of fruit and veg

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For more exciting facts about fruit and veg, plus great ideas on how to eat your 5 A DAY, dive into the Alphabet of fruit and Alphabet of vegetables on World Cancer Research Fund’s new Real Recipes website.

Back to topApple

Granny Smith, Royal Gala, Golden Delicious and Pink Lady are just a few of the thousands of different kinds of apple that are grown around the world! You can make dried apple rings at home – ask an adult to help you take out the core, thinly slice the apple and bake the rings in the oven at a low heat.

Did you know you can cook apples? Try our delicious and healthy baked apples recipe.Back to topApricot

Apricots can be eaten fresh or dried – both are packed with vitamins! Fresh apricots have a soft and slightly furry skin. They make a good lunchbox snack. Apricots are also high in beta-carotene – this helps us keep our eyes and skin healthy.

Do you know where apricots grow? Play our online game ‘Where does it grow?’ to learn where apricots and other vegetables and fruit grow.Back to topAsparagus Asparagus is a shoot vegetable – we eat the stalk and the tip. It makes any dish look more interesting with its unusual shape. Asparagus is a good source of a vitamin called folate, which is important for healthy blood.Back to topAubergine Most aubergines are teardrop-shaped and have a glossy purple skin. On the inside, they are spongy and creamy white. Aubergines grow on bushes and are really fruits – although you wouldn’t want to eat them raw. Australians and Americans call it eggplant because some types look a bit like large eggs!Back to topAvocado

It is sometimes called an avocado pear. Avocado is often mistaken for a vegetable because we eat it like a salad vegetable, but it is actually a fruit. Avocados are at their best when they are ripe and very easy to prepare. They can simply be cut in half with the stone removed and eaten with a little salad dressing or chopped into a salad. Avocados are a good source of essential fats (the good ones) – one of the few fruits or vegetables that contain fat.

Is avocado a fruit? Test your knowledge. Take our ‘Olive-tastic’ quiz on vegetables and fruit.Back to topBanana

Bananas make a nutritious snack! They are a great source of energy and contain lots of vitamins and minerals, especially potassium, which is important to help cells, nerves and muscles in your body to work properly and it helps to lower blood pressure. They have a thick skin to protect them, which is green before bananas are ripe, and get more yellow in colour and sweeter in taste as they ripen. We peel away the skin and eat the soft fleshy part of the fruit underneath. Bananas grow in hanging clusters, sometimes called hands, on the banana plant in tropical regions like Southeast Asia. You can eat them raw, baked, dried or in a smoothie. Why don’t you try mashing it up and have it with yoghurt or porridge or even on brown toast?

Would you like to race a banana? Play our ‘Beat the banana’ online game and see if you can beat Bertie to the finish line.Back to topBeetroot

Beetroot is the root of the beet plant – which explains its name! People have grown it for food since Roman times. Raw beetroot is best for you and great for grating – peel it first. Try it in a salad or sandwich. Small beetroots are usually the sweetest. Ahhhh!

Did you know you can grow beetroot at home? Follow our guide to growing beetroot. It’s fun and easy.Back to top Black-eye bean

In America, these beans are often called black-eyed peas or cow peas. They each have a little black dot on the side – this is where they were once attached to their pod, so it’s a bit like a belly button! You can mix them with all sorts of other beans to make a super salad.

Playing beanbag games is a great way to stay active. Learn how to make a beanbag by following our simple guide.Back to top Broad bean

Another name for this bean is the ‘Fava bean’. Broad beans grow in a green, leathery pod. The beans can be eaten fresh, when they are green, or dried, when they have turned brown. The way to identify them is by their flat, broad shape. Beans are a good source of protein and fibre.

Why not try growing a bean plant at home? It’s easy with our step-by-step instructions.Back to top Broccoli Broccoli is closely related to cabbage – and it’s another one of those ‘greens’ we’re always being told to eat up. The part of a broccoli plant we normally eat is the lovely flowerhead – the flowers are usually green but sometimes purple. Steamed broccoli is tasty in a salad or stir-fry.Back to top Brussels sprout Brussels sprouts are like mini cabbages! They grow out of the ground in knobbly rows on a long tough stalk. They contain loads of vitamin C. Can you guess which country BRUSSELS sprouts originally came from? Well, Brussels is the capital city of Belgium!Back to top Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is large and pear-shaped with a golden-brown to yellow skin. We don’t eat the skin and seeds, only the flesh. The flesh is really hard when it is raw but it turns soft and sweet when it is cooked. It can be roasted, pureed, mashed or used in soups or casseroles. It is a good source of beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in the body. Beta-carotene gives the flesh its bright orange colour.

Keep warm in the winter! Try making Mixer’s butternut squash soup.Back to top Carrot

Carrots grow underground and they can be used in all sorts of dishes – from casseroles to cakes. Raw carrots are great to crunch on and they make a healthy juice, too. They contain lots of beta-carotene – this helps us keep our eyes and skin healthy.

Use carrots to make Captain Carrot and other ‘Funny face pizzas’.Back to top Cherry Cherries are stone fruits – just like their friends the apricots. A cherry tree can carry on producing fruit for 100 years! Cherries grow from stalks in pairs. Ahhh! Sweet ones like the Bing cherry are nicest on their own or in a fruit salad. Sour ones like Morello cherries are tastier cooked.Back to top Clementine

This citrus fruit is the smallest of the tangerines. The skin of Clementines can be peeled away easily and the segments don’t contain pips, which makes them a lot less messy to eat than some other varieties. They smell so delicious and naturally sweet. They are often eaten at Christmas time. Citrus fruits are a good source of vitamin C.

Add segments of clementine to a fruit kebab for a fun way to eat fruit.Back to top Courgette

A courgette is a type of squash and if it isn’t picked early, it grows into a marrow! Courgettes grow on bushes. They look quite like cucumbers and have very soft seeds. They can be cooked with onions, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers to make ratatouille. The American name for a courgette is ‘zucchini’.

Courgettes count towards your 5 A DAY. Download our ‘5 A DAY bingo’ game and have fun playing bingo with your friends.Back to top Date

Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree and lots of them are grown in Egypt and California (USA). Dried dates make a super sweet snack. They can be chopped and sprinkled on cereal instead of sugar or honey.

We use dates in our mince pie recipe. Why not try making mince pies this Christmas?Back to top Elderberry

These little, almost black berries grow on bushes all over the countryside in summer! They aren’t good to eat raw but they are berry nice cooked with other fruits in pies or used to make jam!

WARNING: Some berries are poisonous, so don’t pick them without checking with an adult first. And never eat the leaves!

Back to top Endive

Endive is a member of the lettuce family. It is shaped like a bulb and has leaves that overlap each other – try peeling them off one by one to see how many there are. The leaves are a bit bitter on their own but they are delicious in a salad mixed with sweet tomatoes and slices of orange.

Endive leaves have a bright yellow tip. You could use some to add even more colour to our ‘Rainbow salad’ recipe.Back to top Fennel

This vegetable tastes a bit like liquorice! Fennel is a plant that grows in the ground. A bulb shape grows at the base of the plant, and this is the part that you eat. Raw fennel adds a super crunchy taste to salads. You can also slice it and cook it like onion or celery to use in casseroles. The feathery leaves and seeds add flavouring to cooking, just like herbs.

Discover when fennel grows by reading our quick guide to what’s in season.Back to top Fig

Figs are soft sweet fruits, full of small seeds and often eaten dried. They grow on trees. Fresh figs are delicious and jams and chutneys are often made from them. The skin of a fig is very thin and ripe figs do not keep or travel very well so in warm countries figs are dried.

Have you ever tried figs? What other vegetables and fruit have you tried? Tell us on the ‘I tried’ page.Back to top Garlic

Did you know garlic can help keep mosquitoes away?! And yes, garlic can make your breath smell a bit… garlicky! We eat all different parts of plants and garlic is the bulb. Open it up and you’ll see lots of segments – or cloves – with a papery covering. You only need to use one or two of these to add loads of extra flavour to a food.

Do you know what garlic looks like? Match up pairs of pictures in our fun online game and discover interesting facts.Back to top Grape

Grapes grow in bunches on vines. On the inside, they are sweet, juicy and jelly-like. Green grapes are also called white grapes and are dried to make sultanas. Purple ones can be called black grapes and are dried to make raisins. There are red grapes too – red grape juice tastes totally delicious!

Did you know grapes are a healthy snack? Why not try making a ‘Healthy snack holder’?Back to top Green bean French beans, runner beans, common beans, bobby beans, string beans, Thai beans, wax beans and haricots verts are all names for different types of green bean. Wax beans aren’t even green – they can be yellow or purple! Green beans are picked when they are very young – they should be bright in colour and firm. If the pods are bendy, they won’t taste sweet and crunchy! To eat the beans, the ends should be chopped off – this is called topping and tailing. They only need to be cooked in boiling water for a few minutes then they are ready to eat. In France, they are often eaten in a salad with potatoes and tuna. Ask an adult to help you make one! Green beans are a good source of fibre, which helps keep your tummy healthy. They also contain beta-carotene, which helps us keep our eyes and skin healthy.Back to top Guava

The guava fruit is widely grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. It can be round to pear-shaped with a thin skin that is green and turns yellow as it ripens. The flesh can be white or even pink, and the seeds can be eaten. The guava fruit contains lots of beta-carotene (which forms vitamin A in the body) and vitamin C. The flesh can make a great snack or dessert chopped up, or scooped straight from the skin.

Did you know Guava is yellow? Download our yellow plant foods factsheet to learn more about yellow vegetables and fruit.Back to top Haricot bean

These little beans are white and grow all over the world. Baking them gives you baked beans – the beans are cooked in a tomato sauce. Try them on toast for breakfast. Beans are good for giving you energy.

Haricot beans are a pulse. Learn about other seeds and pulses with Searcher.Back to top Honeydew melon

Honeydew melons grow on trailing vines along the ground. There are THOUSANDS of different kinds of melon – they all have a hard outside, which you can’t eat, and a juicy sweet inside that makes your mouth water!

Our delicious ‘Rainbow fruit salad’ uses melon. Why not try making it?Back to top Iceberg lettuce

There are many, many kinds of lettuce to choose from. Iceberg has a cool, crisp taste. It adds lots of crunch to a sandwich! Other types of lettuce can be curly, dark green or even red! Iceberg lettuce leaves can make a good wrapper for other foods – try wrapping one around a piece of cheese or a boiled egg.

Grow your own lettuce leaves!Back to top Jerusalem artichoke The knobbly Jerusalem artichoke is related to the pretty sunflower. But it isn’t a type of artichoke and it doesn’t come from Jerusalem! The bit of it we eat is an ugly little tuber (like a small thin potato). The yummy white flesh inside tastes amazing.Back to top Kiwi fruit

A kiwi fruit is hairy on the outside and soft in the middle. It is one of the only fruits to be green when it is ripe. You can scoop out the juicy green flesh with a spoon just like a boiled egg! One kiwi fruit contains all the vitamin C you need for a whole day. Vitamin C helps your body to heal cuts and bruises and to fight colds.

We have lots of ideas for activities and games, including our fun ‘Kiwi and spoon race’.Back to top Leek

These are in the same family as onion and garlic – they are allium vegetables. Leeks need to be washed well to remove any dirt and grit between the white sections. You can boil or steam leeks to add to a recipe or stir-fry them with other vegetables. They are in season in the UK. over the winter months and are a good source of fibre.

Our leek and potato soup is simple and tasty.Back to top Lemon

Lemons were used on ships of famous explorers – the vitamin C stopped sailors from getting a disease called scurvy. You can squeeze out the juice and mix it with water to make a zingy drink.

Did you know you can make invisible ink using a lemon? Have fun pretending to be a secret agent.Back to top Mango

Mangoes come in different shapes and sizes. You have to peel off the skin to eat the soft, juicy flesh inside. Mangoes grow best in hot countries like India and Malaysia. There are more than 2,500 different kinds of mango in the world!

Our ‘Traffic light lollies’ recipe uses mango to make the orange light. What type of fruit do you think we use for red and green?Back to top Melon

There are many types of melon; honeydew, cantaloupe and galia, to name a few. The flesh of these different melons, which is the bit we eat, comes in different colours; cantaloupe is usually orange because it is high in beta-carotene, honeydew is usually pale-green to yellow and galia is usually a deeper green. Unlike what its name may indicate, the watermelon is not actually a melon, just a distant relative of the melon. Its flesh is usually pink as it is high in the antioxidant, lycopene. Melons grow off a vine, and have a strong outer skin to protect them, which we don’t eat. Melon goes great chopped up in a fruit salad, adding lots of colour and flavour. It is very refreshing as a snack in the hot summertime too!

We use melon in our exciting ‘Pirate party food’ recipe. Why not try making some?Back to top Mushroom

Although mushrooms are not fruits or vegetables (they are actually a type of fungus), they still count as one of your 5 A DAY. They are tasty on toast with scrambled egg and a grilled tomato.

WARNING: Picking wild mushrooms is not safe! Only an expert can tell which ones are poisonous.

Make cute cat faces with our ‘Purrfect mushrooms’ recipe. It’s delicious, healthy and fun.Back to top Nectarine

Nectarines are a type of peach with a thin smooth skin and firm flesh. The skin of a peach is more furry but the fruit tastes almost exactly the same. You have to be very gentle with them – they can bruise, just like you do, and the fruit will go bad where the bruise is.

You can use nectarines in a fruit salad or you could try making our fun ‘Tutti-frutti sundae’.Back to top Nut

Your brain looks like a giant walnut. To make it grow it needs protein, which is found in nuts! A nut is actually a fruit, or the seed of a fruit. There are lots of different kinds but they all have a hard, dry shell around a kernel (the part of the nut you eat). A Brazil nut tree can live for 500 years!

WARNING: Children under 5 should not be given whole or chopped nuts due to risk of choking. And please don’t eat nuts if you are allergic to them!

‘Can you crack it?’ Try our fun online game and see if you can match all the nuts with their shells.Back to top Olive

Olives are really fruits and they grow on trees. If green olives are left on the tree, they turn black. Have you had them on a pizza? Olives come in many sizes and flavours so you may need to try lots of different ones to find out which ones you like best.

Take the ‘Olive-tastic’ quiz. How much do you know about olives and other vegetables and fruit?Back to top Orange Oranges are really famous – they are one of the most popular fruits in the world! Oranges grow best in countries such as Spain and Italy – where it’s hot and sunny during the day and cooler at night. A glass of pure orange juice counts as one of your 5 A DAY. Try cutting an orange into quarters and freezing it to make a healthy icy treat!Back to top Pea

Petit pois, mangetout, sugar snap and marrowfat are all fancy names for different types of pea. Thousands of tonnes of garden peas are grown in the United Kingdom every year to make frozen peas. A bag of these can come in handy if you’ve had a bump, but eating them is best of all! Sprinkle some over a salad a few minutes before serving for a cold crunchy taste.

You could use peas to make one of our funny ‘Potato faces’.Back to top Peanut

If you buy peanuts in their shells, they are often called monkey nuts – they are given this name because monkeys are thought to love them! Birds and squirrels like them too. Peanuts belong to the same family as peas and beans and grow underground.

Nuts make a healthier snack than crisps or chocolate. Learn more about nuts and dried fruit.Back to top Pear Which fruits always travel in groups of two? Answer: pears! Pears are from the same family as apples but they are softer. They can be yellow, green, reddish or brown on the outside but they all have white, juicy flesh inside. One of the best-loved English pears is called Conference.Back to top Pepper

Peppers can be red, yellow, green or orange – some are even white or purple! If you don’t like the way one colour tastes, you might like another. The green ones are less sweet – red peppers are actually ripened green peppers.

Red peppers are a really delicious snack to have in your packed lunch. Plan your packed lunches with our online game.Back to top Pineapple

It can take TWO YEARS to grow a pineapple. This rough, spiky fruit is actually made up of lots of smaller fruits that have stuck together. It was given its name because early explorers thought it looked like a pine cone. You could use the skin of a pineapple as a bowl to eat your fruit salad!

Try making this delicious pineapple dip recipe, and other ‘Tasty dips from around the world’.Back to top Pumpkin

Pumpkins are orange on the outside, and also on the inside. Although we associate pumpkins with Halloween decoration, they are actually a tasty vegetable too (but we don’t eat the outside, just the flesh inside) and they are related to the cucumber. They can be boiled, baked, roasted or mashed and make delicious soups and even pumpkin pie! They have plenty of beta-carotene, which is turned into vitamin A in our bodies. It is the beta-carotene that give pumpkins their orange colour. There is another part of the pumpkin we use too! Pumpkin seeds can be roasted and eaten as a tasty snack, or sprinkled over yoghurt, and are a good source of essential fatty acids (the good fats).

Get ready for Halloween. Make a pumpkin lantern. Keep the seeds and roast them to make a tasty snack.Back to top Quince

This fruit comes from the same family as the pear, but it can’t be eaten raw. Slices of quince taste lovely in an apple crumble. Quince smells of perfume when it’s been cooked, which means that some people also use it as an air freshener for their home or car! Why don’t you ask an adult if you can try doing the same?

Do you know what a quince looks like? Play our online quiz to see if you can guess the vegetables and fruit from the pictures.Back to top Radish

While some radishes are small and red, others are large and white – and shaped like carrots. Some of the red ones have pretty names like Cherry Belle and Scarlet Globe. Radishes give salad a real ZING! They have a peppery taste and are really crunchy.

Radishes make salads colourful and crunchy. Grow your own at home. The best time to grow them is between March and September.Back to top Raisin

Nearly half of all the world’s raisins come from California – that’s in America. Raisins start off as black grapes. The grapes are turned into raisins by drying them in the sun. Sultanas are made the same way but with green grapes. Mini boxes of raisins are perfect for packed lunches.

Impress your friends with the ‘Incredible dancing raisin’ magic trick. Make raisins magically dance in water.Back to top Rhubarb

Rhubarb was used in Asia long before it was first eaten in Britain. People sometimes grew it in their gardens just because it looked nice! It can be mixed with sweeter fruit like apple. Don’t eat the leaves, they are poisonous!

Rhubarb is lovely stewed on its own, but you could also use it in a delicious pancake topping. Try our healthy pancake recipe.Back to top Satsuma

Satsumas, clementines and mandarins are all different names for types of tangerine. They grow on trees and they grow best in warm weather. The juiciest ones are the heaviest ones. See if you can take the peel off in one piece!

Don’t throw away the net your satsumas come in! You can use it to make a fun microphone. Learn to make other musical instruments too.Back to top Strawberry

Anyone for tennis? Followed by some strawberries of course! Around 25,000kg of strawberries are eaten at Wimbledon each year. Strawberries are actually members of the rose family. They are the only fruits to have their seeds on the outside – one strawberry can have as many as 200.

You can turn strawberries into a cool, tasty treat. Try making our icy ‘Strawberry granita’ recipe.Back to top Sweet potato

These top tubers grow best in tropical places where the weather is warm. They are famous for appearing in lots of Caribbean recipes! They come in all kinds of knobbly shapes and just like the name suggests, they are sweeter than ordinary potatoes. Try them baked – or boiled and mashed with carrots.

Sweet potatoes make yummy wedges. Why not try our tasty ‘Root vegetable wedges’ recipe?Back to top Tomato

Ask a friend if they think a tomato is a fruit or vegetable and see if they know the answer (it’s a fruit!). The little cherry tomatoes are sweet and tasty in salads or in your lunchbox. Tomatoes are easy to grow in a pot in the garden. Buy some seeds and have a go!

Tomatoes are delicious in sandwiches. We have lots of ideas for tasty sandwich fillings. Try making ‘Monster crunch’ or ‘Peter Pig’.Back to top Turnip

According to folklore, turnips were used as jack o’ lanterns long before pumpkins! The turnip is sometimes muddled up with its bigger relative, the swede. Both are lovely cooked in a stew, or boiled then mashed, or roasted. Raw turnip can be grated into a salad.

Use the ends of your turnip to ‘Grow root islands’. Try this fun activity to grow little trees in water.Back to top Ugli fruit

An Ugli fruit is a cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin! It is about the size of a grapefruit but it tastes a bit sweeter and has a wrinkly skin that peels easily. This funky fruit comes from Jamaica and is also grown in the USA – and it’s not that ugly! It can look a bit weird because its yellowy green skin is thick, rough and puffy – and sometimes a bit blotchy!

Doesn’t ugli fruit have a funny name? If you like doing funny things, play our ‘Funny food figures’ online game.Back to top Victoria plum

Plums come in all sorts of colours but Victoria plums are dark red and are grown in England. They are super sweet eaten raw or can be cooked in tarts and crumbles. Plums have a stone inside. Can you think of other fruits that do?

Do you know which country grows the most plums? Play ‘Fruits and vegetables around the world’ to learn more.Back to top Vine leaf

This is a leaf from the vines that grapes grow on – and these leaves CAN be eaten! They are picked when they are quite young and then cooked slightly to soften them. They are used like a wrapping paper to make little parcels filled with things such as rice or finely chopped vegetables.

There are some leaves you can’t eat! But you could use them to make a leaf mask. A great idea for a fancy dress costume.Back to top Watercress Watercress is grown in water! Give mum or dad a top tip – it will last longer in the fridge if it is kept in a bowl or jar of water. It is tastiest in the three “S”s – salads, sandwiches and soups. Try saying that quickly!Back to top Watermelon Watermelons grow along the ground and they can be ENORMOUS. They contain lots of water and are really, really refreshing! In China, children love drinking watermelon juice in summer to help them stay cool. The Chinese name for a watermelon is xigua.Back to top Yam The skin of a yam is thick and rough like the bark of a tree! Yams are a bit like potatoes but their flesh can be white, yellow or even purple. They come from hot countries in the Caribbean and Africa, where people often mash them up and eat them in spicy stews and soups. A yam can grow to be heavier than a human adult!Back to top Zucchini

Zucchini is the American name for a courgette. You can find more information on courgettes on this page. Take a look!

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8 Reasons Why You Should Be Growing Chayote Squash

Hey! Let’s do a list post! How about “8 Reasons Why You Should be Growing Chayote Squash?”

Oh shoot. Now I have to come up with eight reasons, which is a number I picked arbitrarily. That shouldn’t be hard, though, as chayote really is an excellent addition to the garden. Also known as christophine and mirliton, they are a Mesoamerican crop which is now available around the world. Costa Rica exports tons of them to the EU and the US every year as the taste for this tropical squash-that-doesn’t-taste-like-a-squash has grown.

Ready? Let’s see if I can come up with eight reasons for growing chayote squash… here goes…

1. Chayote is Productive

No lie! This squash is likely to be the star of your garden in 2017 if you get them planted this spring.

Here’s a photo-manipulated shot of a bag of them I picked in my North Florida garden at the beginning of 2016, just before the first frost of the winter (which was a very late one – January!):

It looks artistic, doesn’t it? I added an “artistic” filter in Photoshop!

You can see me harvesting these squash in this video (along with a few other goodies):

They are a wonderfully productive plant – but don’t think this productivity lasts for only one gardening year. Oh no – the story gets better!

2. Chayote are Perennial

That means they come back year after year. Look at this one growing back:

I love perennial vegetables. (You might be surprised at how many great ones there are – if you want to dive down the perennial rabbit hole, Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables will get you dreaming.)

If you live in a colder climate, mulch over chayote’s roots to make sure they don’t freeze in the winter. My bet is you’ll be able to keep them going all the way into zone 7 if you’re clever with frost protection.

3. Chayote Taste Good

There is a highly productive vegetable that starts with a “z” which I don’t wish to mention, as it is a hateful and vile thing.

People grow this, then throw them away.

Unlike that abomination, chayote are good enough that you’ll want to eat them. They are much like a dense cucumber and some call them a “vegetable pear.” If you play pretend, they are somewhat like a mild pear but without the grittiness.

How do you eat them? I need to make a another point, obviously, or I won’t hit eight. So…

4. Chayote are Versatile in the Kitchen

Chayote can be sliced and eaten raw like their cousin the cucumber, or they can be peeled and cooked. we discovered through experience that if you don’t peel them the skins get quite tough in cooking.

Chayote can be made into pickles and relish and can also be sauteed. One of my favorite ways to eat them is right off the vine, like a fruit.

They are denser than a cucumber and hold up better in cooking. They’ll also absorb the flavor of whatever you cook them in, so they’re a good filler for the pot.

5. Chayote Shoots are Delicious

This is something I discovered while I was visiting the H.E.A.R.T. gardens in Lake Wales and touring the plants with my friend Josh Jamison.

“Have you ever eaten the shoots?” he asked, when I recognized chayote growing on a trellis.

“No,” I said, “I heard they were edible but never tried them.”

“Here,” he said, breaking one off. “You have to try one.”

I did. “These are amazing!” I said.

He grinned. “They really are good – I’m growing this trellis just for the shoots!”

I was impressed. They’re good in the way asparagus is good. Chayote shoots are a mix of subtle flavors, nutty, fresh, green, sweet, delicious.

6. Chayote is Easy to Grow

Some vegetables – like tomatoes – are technically a perennial but practically speaking are an annual. Unlike these fair weather perennials, chayote sticks around happily. I’ve had few problems with insects, disease or nutritional deficiencies… they just like to grow. Strangely, though, I have had multiple chayote rot when they were planted, instead of grow. I found out what I was doing wrong, however, and now plant them differently.

In a video I posted yesterday, I show you how to plant chayote to give them a better success rate from the beginning.

Planting them on their side, not all the way in the ground, seems to be the best way to do it.

7. Chayote are Novel

There is such a thing as garden bragging rights. In fact, once you reach Super Elite Gardener Status(TM), you start competing with other gardeners to see who has the wildest and weirdest things growing.

Super Elite Gardener #1: “So… did you see my mouse melons?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: (yawns) “Oh yeah. I grew those, like, five years ago.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Of course. Everyone grows them. But I know you used my guest bathroom earlier… notice anything… interesting… in there?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “Uh…”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “You did, didn’t you? Yes, you did. Tell me what it was.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “It was… a… 30-foot…

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Yeeeeeeeessssss?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “…or maybe longer…”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Say it.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “…vanilla orchid with pods on it.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “Which you wouldn’t think was anything, would you, if it were just a NORMAL vanilla orchid, right? Why is this one so special? Tell me.”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “I’d rather not say.”

Super Elite Gardener #1: “That’s because I win, don’t I?”

Super Elite Gardener #2: “Fine!” (sobs) “You win! It was a VARIEGATED 30-foot-plus vanilla orchid with pods on it growing 1200 miles from the tropics! You win! I hate you!”

Chayote may not be at that level, but it will put you ahead of the typical backyard vegetable gardener.

8. Chayote Vines Will Climb on What’s Available

Unlike some vegetables that need to be tied up carefully and supported well, chayote will happily cover whatever is available.

I’ve seen them growing 40 feet up in oak trees. They’ll climb towards the sunshine and put fruit way up in the air. This is good and bad, of course. It’s great that they are so scrappy, but it’s hard to harvest fruit that high in the air.

If you have a chain link fence, a small tree you don’t care about or a rotting garden shed… plant chayote next to it and let them run. They’ll turn that support into a beautiful green mass of vines in a season. Growing chayote squash over eyesores isn’t a bad idea, actually. Got a burned-out car? Grow chayote on it! An ugly spouse? Chayote!

My chayote vines quite happily grew over an unproductive pomegranate tree and covered it with fruit… albeit not pomegranate fruit.

They make good shade, too, so you could plant them on an arbor over a sitting area for summer shade.

Actually… I could add a 9, too. Let’s do it!

9. (A BONUS! EXTRA POINTS!) Chayote is a Solid Survival Crop

Because of the list above, chayote is a very good addition to a survival gardening plan. Their nutritional profile is good, though they are unfortunately low in calories. The productivity makes up for low caloric yield, though, and they’re a good break from MREs, spam and canned beans!

Now that I made it to 9 of 8, let’s take a minute and look at growing chayote squash in your backyard (or front yard, if you’re hardcore).

Growing Chayote Squash

Growing chayote squash is easy.

First, get a few chayote from a grocery store, a fellow gardener or a farmer’s market.

Leave the fruits out on your counter for a few weeks. Eventually some of them should grow shoots out of the blossom end. (Chayote do not grow from proper seeds. Instead, the fruit surrounds a single embryo in the middle.)

Once they sprout and the vines are a few inches long, I plant them as shown in the video above.

Make sure you have something sturdy for them to climb where you plant the sprouted fruit. They’re not picky, as I said, but they are vigorous.

Chayote like full sun but will take half shade. Morning sun is the most important.

Chayote like compost, nitrogen and mulch. I fed mine with diluted urine (and sometimes undiluted) poured at the base of the plant. My bet is they’ll also appreciate calcium.

My plants produced in the fall after growing vigorously all through the spring and summer.

Have fun growing chayote squash – it’s a worthwhile vegetable to add to your survival garden.

Growing Chayote

Then … Stand Back

I found the Mexican import to be a rapidly growing climber … forming a sturdy vine that crawled up and over anything near it and was soon covered with elegant, five-pointed, sandpapery leaves. Our two creepers were started on a trellis against the garage, and — when the vines reached the top — they spread across the roof (and helped keep the building cool). Fortunately, the plants didn’t take up any of our small and valuable garden space … however, we had oak trees near the garage and learned the hard way that — unless directed with ties and such — chayotes go right on up any vertical support available! (When harvest time arrived, we had to “make like squirrels” in order to pick the highest fruits.)

A vine will continue to grow all summer and may attain a length of 30 feet or more before it starts to blossom. The productive plant needs a thorough, deep watering at least once every week and — if the weather is hot and dry — should be mulched to help conserve moisture.

When the days begin to shorten noticeably (September in southern California, and August farther north), sprays of green blossoms appear … but they’re so nearly the color of the leaves that you may not even notice them. Then, sometime in October (when you’ve probably just about given up hope), the plant will suddenly be covered with green fruit … and will keep on producing until the earliest frost.

My first harvest taught me why chayote vines are typically hefty. The fruits are heavy… often weighing a pound or more apiece. And there are lots of them! In fact, a single plant may bear between 50 and 100 in a season, and it’s estimated that one hectare (2.47 acres) of Sechium edule will produce 120,000 fruits a year!

You can begin picking your crop at any stage. At one to two inches in diameter, young chayote make good pickles or relish. When they’re two-thirds grown, they can be served sliced, like cucumbers, into salads. Later still, the nearly ripe fruit will be delicious curried or stir-fried … or used to liven up soups or stews. My favorite recipe, however, is also simplest of all: Just boil the slices for 10 minutes … season them with salt, pepper and herbs … and serve them with butter.

After they’re fully mature (the skins will have become rather hard), you can boil or steam the “pears” and mash their “innards” like potatoes … cut them in half and bake them just as you would winter squash … or stuff the edible “bowls” with seasoned meat and cooked rice and then roast them in a medium oven (about 325 degrees Fahrenheit) until tender. I have even served chayote “candied yams” alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.

A Winter Feast

Our vines were still loaded with fruit when the first frost hit. By the following morning the plants’ luxuriant leaves were suddenly crumpled, and I thought it was the end of my first chayote crop. Not so! The remaining fruits hung in “cold storage” until I finally picked them. I found that they kept well (another definite advantage) when simply spread out on newspapers in the garage, and we were able to enjoy them until long after Christmas.

After the chayote had been harvested, I pulled down the vines and mulched the roots. (If your area’s winters are fairly cold, you should mulch heavily.) The next year, new shoots popped up through the insulative layer and started the whole cycle all over again!

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Maximino Martinez, author of the book Plantas Utiles de Mexico (Useful Plants of Mexico), says that after a vine is two years old, parts of the root can be harvested without killing the plant … since the belowground growth will then be very large and will have put out tubercles. If you cut some of these away, you should be able to garner even more food from your vines each year. The root is 20 percent high-quality starch, and is often used as a substitute for wheat products. (Chayote “potatoes” can also be peeled, boiled, steamed or baked.)

Besides All That

There are a number of more exotic uses for chayote, as well. In the West Indies, for example, the vine’s fibers are twined into strong ropes, and — in old-time Creole medicine — christophine herb tea was used as a curative for vascular diseases. (According to one botanist, “An infusion of leaves lowers blood pressure and is said to counteract arteriosclerosis with surprising results.”)

Now I don’t make rope very often, and I would surely hesitate to doctor a heart patient with chayote tea. But I have found that my two vines produce all the vegetable pears we can consume … with plenty leftover to give away to friends and neighbors. And now that we’ve gotten our chayote garden started, our whole family is looking forward to many years of good eating!

Do you have to peel chayote squash

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