Chayote Squash Is the Super-Healthy Food You Haven't Heard of but Need In Your Life
Also, how do you even say chayote?
It sounds like a furry animal you would see in the desert—but it's definitely not, and that's also not how you say it. Here, everything you need to know about chayote.
What exactly is chayote?
First off: chayote (pronounced chi-yote) is a type of summer squash, says Wesley McWhorter, M.S., R.D., chef and dietitian at UTHealth School of Public Health. It's technically considered a fruit—much like a tomato—but it probably isn't something you want to bite into like an apple. It grows on a vine and originated in Mexico but is now grown in warm climates worldwide. Chayote squash looks like and has the crunchy texture of unripe pear, yet it has a mild, almost cucumber-like flavor, like less-sweet spaghetti squash. (Related: Healthy Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash)
What are the health benefits of chayote?
Similar to other fruits, chayote (also affectionately known as cho-cho) is high in antioxidants and vitamins—specifically vitamin B, vitamin C, potassium, and amino acids. It's super healthy too: One cup of chayote has just 25 calories, only 0.2g fat, 6g carbs, 1.1g protein, 2.2g sugar, and 2.2g fiber. However, a vast amount of the nutrients are in the peel—so be sure to keep it on while cooking and eating. It works well as a replacement for starchy vegetables for anyone looking to cut carbs or who is following a low-carb diet like keto or Atkins.
How do you buy it?
Chayote is available in grocery stores. However, if your produce section leaves something to be desired, you may have better luck finding it at a specialty store like Whole Foods or at a farmers' market. Warm climates have a long growing season for chayote squash so it's typically available year-round, but that may depend on the area of the country you live in. To pick a ripe chayote, look for one that's firm to the touch, between light and dark green in color, and without any off-color soft spots (differing color is fine if the fruit is firm). (Related: Sweet and Savory Recipes Using Summer Produce)
How to Cook and Eat Chayote
You can eat all parts of the chayote (and probs should—remember the nutrients in that peel), which makes it versatile for cooking and eating. (If you remember the shrimp monologue from Forrest Gump—"you can pickle it, sauté it, grill it, bake it, roast it…"—the same goes for chayote.) Each method will bring out different flavors and textures. For example, grilling caramelizes the chayote due to its sugar content. It is low in sugar but still a fruit.
Eat it raw: Chef Saul Montiel from Cantina Rooftop in NYC uses it raw and julienned to add crunch to a salad finished with lime juice, spicy Mexican seasoning (Tajin), and olive oil.
Use it in soup: The mild flavor means that you can season it to suit any palette. Chayote can handle bold spices like chipotle, harissa, and curry. "My favorite way to use chayote is in a traditional soup that my mom served at her restaurant in Mexico: mole de olla," says Chef Montiel. It's made of chayote squash, zucchini, green beans, corn, potato, chambarete and aguja (steak) meat, submerged into a chilli broth, and seasoned with garlic, onion, and epazote (a Mexican herb). "The chayote balances the spiciness and adds a sweet taste to the short rib soup," says Chef Montiel. (Sounds like it belongs on this list of awesome keto soups that are low-carb but flavorful.)
Roast it: One of the easiest ways to begin experimenting with chayote (or any new vegetable, TBH) is by roasting it. McWhorter recommends this simple roasted chayote recipe: 2 tablespoons oil of your choice + ground black pepper + 1 pound chopped chayote. Bake at 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Then add salt—but only after the chayote is cooked. Science lesson: Salt draws moisture out of plant cell walls through osmosis. "If you draw moisture out while a water-rich vegetable (or fruit) cooks, it leads to a dehydrated and burnt final product with poor texture, especially with summer squash and eggplant varieties," says McWhorter. If you wait until after, you still get the salty taste—but don't ruin the chayote in the process. This tip is going to change your roasting game forever. (Related: 9 Kinda Brilliant Roasted Vegetable Combinations)