The name of the current hipster of summer squashes sounds like a wolf-like animal you don’t want to attract on your next camping trip. But chayote is exactly the kind of vegetable-like fruit you want to attract into your life due to its super nutritive properties. They say it helps preserve people’s health in life and according to a legend in Colombia, preserve peoples’ bodies after death. We’ll get to that later.
Why haven’t you ever heard of it, you ask?
Probably because this deep green, hard fruit, that’s about the size of an apple with small thorns on its skin, goes by several different names across continents. Just in the Americas alone, it has its variations: In Louisiana’s Creole culture it is known as mirliton and in Brazil it’s known as chuchu. Informally in the States it’s been called pear squash and vegetable pear.
Belonging to the gourd family, like melons, cucumbers and squash, chayote is native to Mexico and according to Educalingo, the word chayote (pronounced chi-yote), is a Spanish derivative of the Nahuatl word chayote. Chayote was introduced to Europe by explorers during the time of Columbus, who brought back a wide assortment of plants to Europe.
This Superfood Turns People Into Mummies
Perhaps one of the wildest reasons chayote may have been rescued from obscurity and thrown into the botanical limelight is due to an unsolved mystery surrounding a cemetery in San Bernardo, Colombia where dead bodies turn into mummies naturally. In the mid-1960s, when gravediggers had to unearth the bodies due to a flood, they discovered that many bodies looked as though they had been embalmed. These bodies housed in underground Colombian crypts had defied the normal process of decomposition. When the town’s locals were asked the reason for the well-preserved corpses, they all said that it’s because of their diet rich in chayote (known in Colombia as guatila).
Chayote contains trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Zinc helps to heal wounds, calcium and magnesium keep bones strong, and potassium supports nerve and muscle function. Its also high in fiber and has anti-inflammatory properties. Alejandro Cano, an agricultural adviser in San Bernardo, Colombia told the Wall Street Journal in 2015 that his family is a big consumer of guatila (chayote) and that “the cousin of my grandfather was partially mummified when he was removed a few years ago, and we were all really excited.”
How to Eat Chayote
Colombians like to add chayotes to soups and desserts after peeling and boiling them. U.S. foodies are drawn to its sweet and savory taste and the way its crunchy texture can liven up salads, since it tastes like a cross between cucumber and spaghetti squash.
Sautéed Chayote Squash – Recipe Here
Best way to cook chayote like a gourmet? According to Wesley McWhorter, M.S., R.D., chef and dietitian at UTHealth School of Public Health, the simplest and tastiest way to cook your first chayote dish at home is simply roasting it. Using a pound of chopped chayote, he suggests adding two tablespoons of your preferred oil and some ground black pepper and placing it in the oven to bake at 375°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Be sure to add salt after the chayote is cooked. Why? “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,” McWhorter told Food & Wine. So waiting to sprinkle the salt on after you cook it, won’t ruin the chayote in the process.
Whether you aspire to mummihood one day or not, we think it’s chayote time in your local village.