Chayote is a tropical trailing vine which produces fruits, which are treated more like vegetables than true fruits. The fruits are also known as chayote, or they may be called christophine, choko, Mexican squash, or vegetable pears, depending on the region. Additionally, the tuberous part of the chayote root is edible.
A member of the gourd family, chayote is very popular in Latin America and parts of the United States, and it also pops up in some Asian and European cuisine. A well stocked grocery store or a Hispanic market will generally stock chayote, although it can be costly at times.
There are two basic varieties of the fruit, one of which superficially resembles a pear, with the classic pear shape and smooth greenish to white skin. Another cultivar is covered in soft spines, although it retains the pear shape. Both versions have a large edible seed with a faintly nutty flavor in the center of the crisp white flesh. The flesh of the chayote tends to be relatively bland, and many cooks season it extensively, using the chayote as a blank canvas for seasoning.
Chayote was first domesticated in Mexico, where the fruit is used in both raw and cooked forms. When cooked, chayote is usually handled like summer squash, and it is generally lightly cooked to retain the crispy flavor. Raw chayote may be added to salads or salsas, and it is often marinated with lemon or lime juice. It can also be eaten straight, although the bland flavor makes this a dubious endeavor. Whether raw or cooked, chayote is a good source of amino acids and vitamin C.
The tubers of the plant are eaten like potatoes and other root vegetables. In addition, the shoots and leaves can be consumed, and they are often used in salads and stir fries, especially in Asia. Like other members of the gourd family such as cucumbers, melons, and squash, chayote can get quite sprawling, and it should only be planted if there is plenty of room in the garden. The roots are also highly susceptible to rot, especially in containers, and the plant in general is finicky to grow.
The word for chayote is Spanish, borrowed from the Nahautl word chayotli. Chayote was one of the many foods introduced to Europe by early explorers, who brought back a wide assortment of botanical samples. The age of conquest also spread the plant south from Mexico, ultimately causing it to be integrated into the cuisine of many other Latin American nations.