The chayote is an edible plant that belongs to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae along with melons, cucumbers and squash.
The plant has large leaves that form a canopy over the fruit. The vine is grown on the ground or more commonly on trellises.
Chayote was first cultivated 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 crisp 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 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.
Chayote is native to Central America where it is a very important ingredient to the diet. Other warm regions around the globe have been successful in cultivating it as well. Main growing regions are Costa Rica and Veracruz, Mexico. Costa Rican chayotes are predominantly exported to the European Union, whereas Veracruz is the main exporter of chayotes to the United States.