Florida Heritage Foods


Common name


Scientific Name

Sechium edule

Other Common Names

Custard marrow or Buddha’s hand (English), mirliton (Cajun, Haitian Creole), choko (Australia), xuxu (Brazil), chu chu (Jamaica), 佛手瓜 (fó shŏu guā, Mandarin)
Chayote is an edible gourd from Meso-America with a culinary history that dates to the Aztec and Mayan empires. European colonialism carried chayote throughout the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe where it has been integrated into local cuisines. Chayote is not only common in Louisiana Creole and Cajun cooking, the nutritious vegetable is important in a wide variety of Latin dishes throughout Florida. Chayote has flourished in historic Florida gardens for more than a century, and it is an nutritious and easy to grow perennial vine for beginning gardeners today.

Historical Significance

Native to Central America, both the Aztecs and the Mayans cultivated chayote in the region between Mexico and Honduras. The crop was integrated into trans-Atlantic trade by the Europeans in the 15th century, and the plant was introduced to Europe and European colonies in Asia, Africa and the Americas. In Florida, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings popularized ‘Chayote us Gratin’ and her original chayote garden still flourishes at her historic homestead in Cross Creek, Florida. Today, chayote is receiving increased attention due to the rising popularity of Latin cuisine throughout the state.

Cultural Significance

The significance of chayote in Latin American cultures is evidenced by the wide variety of different recipes throughout the region. Chayote can be eaten cooked or raw, and lends itself to a variety of cooking methods, including frying, baking, sauteing, and boiling. When it is eaten raw, it is mostly enjoyed in salads and salsa. Yet it is also baked into sweet pies. In Mexico, the roots are cooked the same way as a potato (chinchayote in Mexico) and the leaves are used as spinach. The integration of chayote into local cuisine generated a variety of new preparation techniques. In China chayote was integrated into stir-fry, and in Madagascar it is eaten with sausage. Early Floridians cooked chayote in casseroles as a squash, and today a broad spectrum of Latin dishes throughout Florida demonstrate the myriad of ways chayote is prepared.

Cooking With Chayote

Chayote is rich in vitamin C, fiber, amino acids, and carbohydrates.
Chayote Plant Card Photo
Chayote Plant Card Photo

Growing Tips

Chayote is a perennial vine that grows vigorously and requires a lot of space. It grows well in rich soil and is often used to cover livestock pens. It can be planted directly via the seed or the entire or transplanted from April through June because the vines are frost sensitive. Chayote should be ready to harvest in October and November and can be stored at around 55 degrees wrapped in newspaper. To plan a heritage garden, download the ‘Planning a Florida Heritage Garden (PDF).’