What Is Chayote Squash And How Do You Eat It?

Nestled among harvest-colored butternut, acorn, and other types of squash that might be more familiar to American kitchens, chayote may look a bit out of place in the produce section — but that vibrant green squash is right where it's supposed to be. Officially Sechium edule, chayote is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with squash, pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, and watermelons (via The Worldwide Vegetables). Averaging four to eight inches in length, chayote is pear-shaped with vertical indentations tracing down the squash.

While its exact origin is unclear, Shape traces early chayote references to Mesoamerica, the region encompassing modern-day Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and central to southern Mexico. Other names for the summer squash include vegetable pear and chocho. In France, where it's popular as an ingredient in gratin, chayote is known as christophine. Whatever you call it, the plucky fruit (it has seeds, so it's not a vegetable) is packed with nutrients, low in calories, and easy to prepare.

What does chayote squash taste like?

The texture of chayote squash is often described as a cross between jicama, potato, and water chestnuts. The light green flesh is crunchy yet dense and juicy and almost snaps when broken. As for the taste, it's fresh, mild, and clean — like jicama or cucumber, but with a hint of sweetness, somewhat like apple. 

Because of its subtle flavor and versatile texture, chayote squash adapts well for use in everything from sweet to savory dishes. Inside a chayote squash, you'll find a single seed that's similar in appearance to an avocado pit, but you can actually eat it. Roasted, it tastes like a cross between a lima bean and an almond, says Harvest to Table. Even the leaves can be used: Specialty Produce describes a sandpaper-like texture with a mild, sweet, grassy flavor that pops in salads and stir-fries and works well in combination with mint, dill, cilantro, and lime.

Nutritional information about chayote squash

According to Gourmet Sleuth, a cup of cubed chayote squash packs just 25 calories, and the water-dense fruit is good for hydration. A ½ cup of chayote squash provides 17% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, The Florida Times-Union reports, which promotes the health of your skin, bones, cartilage, and more. Chayote is also a good source of soluble fiber, folic acid, potassium, and antioxidants, which can protect against cellular damage and reduce inflammation, Healthline says. Specifically, chayote squash is rich in the antioxidants quercetin, myricetin, morin, and kaempferol. Research shows that myricetin is particularly adept at battling stressors that can lead to cancer and diabetes. 

Verywell Fit lists vitamin K, vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin E, manganese, copper, zinc, potassium, and magnesium among the nutrients found in chayote squash and cites a 2019 study linking polyphenols in chayote squash to a variety of health benefits due to their antiallergic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticarcinogenic properties.

Cooking with chayote squash

When served on its own, chayote squash tastes pretty much the same whether it's cooked or raw; it's like a sponge for other ingredients, soaking up flavors from savory to sweet to salty to spicy and everything in between. That means that the magic is in the preparation. Generally, while chayote skin is edible, it can be tough, so most people prefer to peel the squash before eating or using it in a recipe. 

In addition to serving chayote squash raw in salads, Gourmet Sleuth suggests stuff-and-bake preparations like Creole-style stuffed chayote, asserting that it benefits from aggressive seasoning. Diced chayote is a good candidate for throwing into soups, stews, and casseroles, and larger pieces can become a side dish when grilled or roasted with garlic, cumin, and nuts like pistachios or almonds. Braising a whole squash (including the skin) in vegetable broth with herbs creates a tasty main dish, according to Thrive Cuisine. Another option: Peel the squash and cut it into wedges to make chayote fries. Specialty Produce says chayote squash is also popular in Latin America as the base for a dessert pie, similarly to the way pumpkin or sweet potato are often used.

How to buy and store chayote squash

Officially, chayote squash season is October through March (via Gardening Know How), but as it gains popularity in the U.S., it's getting easier to find year-round not only in Latino markets but also at most large supermarkets. That's because, according to Gourmet Sleuth, farms in California, Florida, and Louisiana are beginning to cultivate the fruit. When shopping for chayote, look for blemish-free, even-toned skin. While deep vertical lines in the skin are normal, the skin around the grooves should be firm, not loose or flappy. 

According to Women's Health, chayote squash should be stored in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where it will last as long as two or three weeks. It's also relatively easy to grow your own chayote, should you be so inclined. Gardening Know How breaks down the steps: Start with a mature, unblemished piece of fruit from the grocery store. Lay it stem-side up at a 45-degree angle in a one-gallon pot of soil. Place the pot in a sunny area and water occasionally. When the sprout develops three or four leaves, pinch one back to start a new branch of the vine. Transplant outdoors to a full-sun location. In northern climates, wait until after the final frost of the season before transplanting.