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August 2015

Did you know that Chayote (Sechium edule) fruit although belonging to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, contains just a single seed?

Chayote (Sechium edule). Flowers and fruits.

Chayote - Sechium edule

Chayote (Sechium edule) is an edible plant belonging to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, but unlike the familiar melons, gourds, squashes, and pumpkins, the fruits of which contain many seeds, the Chayote fruit contains just a single seed. Globally it is known by many names including christophene or christophine, cho-cho, Cidra (Antioquia, Caldas, Quindio and Risaralda regions of Colombia), Guatila (Boyaca and Valle del Cauca regions of Colombia), Centinarja (Malta), Sousou or Chou-chou (Mauritian Creole), pimpinela (Madeira), Pipinola (Hawaii), tayota (Dominican Republic), Mirliton (Haitian Creole), pear squash, vegetable pear, chouchoute, choko, guisquil (Guatemala, El Salvador), Pataste (Honduras), Dashkush (Manipuri), Su su (Vietnam). In Greece is known as "Jonah's gourd". The word chayote is a Spanish derivative of the Nahuatl word chayohtli. 

Chayote is originally native to Mesoamerica. Chayote was probably domesticated in  Guatemala or Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs in Pre-Columbian times. It has been introduced as a crop worldwide. 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. It is now grown throughout the tropics and subtropics. Chayote is commercially important in several countries, particularly in Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico, and Costa Rica. It is popular in the West Indies as well. Chayote's survival outside cultivation is favored by its self-compatible breeding system and generalist pollinator syndrome. In areas where it is known to be introduced, Chayote has frequently naturalized; e.g., in Java and Reunion.

Chayote is an herbaceous perennial vine with branched tendrils. The angled hollow stem is longitudinally furrowed and covered sparsely with trichomes. The shoots, after emergence from the sprouted fruit, elongate rapidly for the first few meters, but the growth rate subsequently declines. With the decline of stem elongation, the lower axillary lateral shoots grow rapidly and the vines can attain lengths of 6 to 15 m, depending on circumstances.

The 7 to 25 cm wide leaves are broadly ovate, angled, or slightly lobed and cordate (heart-shaped) at the base and apiculate (tapered) at the apex. The petiole (leaf stalk) is 3 to 15 cm long. The leaves resemble those of cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

The greenish or cream-colored flowers are borne in the leaf axils, the male flowers (which have prominent nectaries) in small peduncled (stalked) clusters and the female flowers singly (both types of flowers are present on the same plant). The calyx (the collective term for a flower's sepals) is deeply five-parted and the corolla (the collective term for a flower's petals) is rotate (flat-faced and wheel-shaped). The five stamens have fused filaments; the ovary is inferior and the style and stigma form a small head.

After pollination by bees (or humans), the ovary grows into a fleshy 10 to 20 cm long pear-shaped fruit with longitudinal furrows. The whitish flesh of the fruit encloses the single seed, which is flat, white, and around 3 to 5 cm long. The surface of the white or green fruit may be spiny or smooth. Some varieties have spiny fruits. The flesh has a fairly bland taste, and a texture is described as a cross between a potato and a cucumber. Although generally discarded, the seed has a nutty flavor and may be eaten as part of the fruit. The root is large and tuberous. Unlike other cucurbits, which are propagated by seeds, Chayote is propagated using the entire fruit. It is also viviparous, with a sprout developing from the embryo of the seed while the fruit is still attached to and growing on the vine.

The chayote fruit is used in mostly cooked forms. When cooked, chayote is usually handled like summer squash, it is generally lightly cooked to retain the crispy consistency. Though rare and often regarded as especially unpalatable and tough in texture, raw chayote may be added to salads or salsas, most often marinated with lemon or lime juice. Whether raw or cooked, chayote is a good source of vitamin C.

Although most people are familiar only with the fruit as being edible, the root  (which is around 20% carbohydrate), stem, seeds and leaves are edible as well. The tubers of the plant are eaten like potatoes and other root vegetables, while the shoots and leaves are often consumed in salads and stir fries, especially in Asia. Like other members of the gourd family, such as cucumbers, melons, and squash, chayote has a sprawling habit, 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 tuberous part of the root is starchy and eaten like a yam (can be fried). It can be used as pig or cattle fodder, as well.

The leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves has been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension, and to dissolve kidney stones.

Ěodern Greeks gave the name "Jonah's gourd" to Sechium edule. In the biblical Book of Jonah, God causes a plant (in Hebrew a Kikayon) to grow over Jonah's shelter in desert to give him some shade from the sun. The fast-growing plant referred to in the biblical Book of Jonah is most often translated into English as “gourd.” However, this is a mistranslation that dates to the appended Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, in which the Hebrew word qiqayon (castor, Ricinus communis, Euphorbiaceae) was transformed into the somewhat similar-sounding Greek word kolokynthi (colocynth, Citrullus colocynthis). In translation of the Greek into Latin, kolokynthi became the similar-sounding cucurbita (gourd). This is reflected in early iconography, the plant most often depicted being a long-fruited Lagenaria siceraria (bottle or calabash gourd), a fast-growing climber. In fact there is no connection between american plant Sechium edule and the Book of Jonah. It is obvious that Greek (ancient and modern) were literally lost in translation!


Source:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chayote
http://eol.org/pages/584297/overview
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonah
https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/jonah.pdf

 

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