The choko or chayote (Sechium edule) is a vigorous, herbaceous perennial vine from the Cucurbitaceae (gourd or cucumber) family, that is native to Central America, but is now cultivated in many parts of the world.
Choko fruit are light green in colour and are variable in shape and size, resembling a mango-shaped or pear-shaped squash that is partially flattened, with a shallow to deep indentation or fold at the base.
The vines have rough textured, slightly lobate leaves with 3-5 angular lobes, characteristic of the cucurbits.
The fruit contains a single large seed, which is viviparous, meaning that the seed will germinate and sprout inside the fruit once it reaches maturity, whether it is still on the plant or sitting on a kitchen bench. Choko vines probably lost the mechanism for dormancy during the process of domestication and cultivation.
The choko (chayote) fruit has a rather bland taste, with a flavor described as that of mild squash with a hint of cucumber, and a crispy texture. They can be eaten raw in salads and can also be cooked. Chokoes contain vitamin C and dietary fibre, and they’re low in fat.
All parts of the plant are edible, the roots, stems, seeds and leaves. Additionally, the leaves and fruit are also used medicinally.
How to Propagate Choko Vines
Choko vines can easily be propagated from a mature sprouting fruit in late winter and spring. The plants will grow prolifically over summer and bear fruit in autumn and winter, when other fresh fruiting vegetables are scarce.
The Choko fruit are used for propagation and can be purchased cheaply from markets and greengrocers.
Step 1. Sit choko fruit on kitchen bench in well-lit location. Choko propagation is a simple procedure. Just place a store-bought choko fruit on the kitchen bench in a well-lit location where it gets some natural light, keep it at room temperature and wait for it to sprout a green shoot. It should take around two weeks to sprout. The fruit will shrivel a bit as it loses moisture, and the shoot emerges.
Don’t place the choko fruit too close to a window of as it may get too hot and dry out rather quickly.
Step 2. Plant sprouted choko fruit into pot or into the soil. After the choko fruit has sprouted, it’s ready to plant.
Planting in a pot – If the choko is to be planted in a pot, a pot of 20cm (8″) wide or larger will be needed to start off with. As the plant grows it will need to be transplanted into a larger pot, such as 30cm (12″) pot or larger.
Planting in the soil – If planting the choko directly into the garden, select a location with well-draining soil in full sun. Mixing in some compost into the planting hole will improve drainage in heavy soils and improve water and nutrient retention in fast-draining sandy soils. Add some manure into the soil to provide extra nutrient to fuel the the vigorous plant growth.
Plant the whole choko fruit into the pot of potting mix or into the soil, with the tip of the shooting end of the fruit slightly exposed, and the shoot pointing upwards.
If the shoot is bent to one side, that’s fine as it will straighten on its own as it grows towards the light.
When growing chokoes in pots, place them in a location with full sun, as choko vines need plenty of sun to grow.
In a few days, leaves will emerge, and the vine will begin to grow.
Step 3. Build a support trellis or frame for the plant to climb. Provide the choko vine with some form of support and it will need some kind of structure to wrap its tendril around and climb up, much like a cucumber.
At the very least, a wooden tomato stake or a vertical support will give the plant something to cling to as it grows upwards. A mesh panel, wire supports or a fence, any structure will do.
When growing choko vines in the ground, be sure to give them plenty of space as they will grow very quickly.
Propagating Choko Vines from Cuttings
If choko fruit are not available for propagation, stem cuttings of choko vines can be used instead.
- Cut sections of stem 15-20 cm (6-8″) in length with 2-4 nodes from mature stems.
- Remove all of the leaves and plant the cuttings slanted at an angle or horizontally.
- Place the containers of cuttings in the shade and keep them moist.
Container-grown cuttings will develop good root system after 1-2 months and will be ready to transplant.
It’s important to remember that choko seeds cannot be dried and used to grow new plants from.
How to Care for a Choko Vine
Chokoes are vigorous, perennial vines that are very easy to grow in mild, frost-free climates. The vines are killed off by frosts.
These rampant vines need lots of room to grow and a support for to climb on, and the vine will do the rest! Choko vines can be grown to cover a trellis, arbor, or fence, or used as a fast-growing ground cover. They can quickly cover a large structure such as a fence or a shed in a single growing season.
In commercial cultivation, the vines are grown on trellises just above head-height to make it easy to walk beneath the vines and harvest the fruit hanging below.
Chokoes have slender branching stems with clinging tendrils that wrap around whatever they can to support the vines and can grow up to 10m (30 feet long). make sure they don’t climb into trees as they will grow all the way to the tops of the canopies!
The growing requirements for a choko vine are:
- Full sun to part shade
- Well drained soil in the garden or good quality potting mix in a pot
- Regular watering
They can grow in temperate, subtropical, tropical and arid climates, and are ready to harvest in 18-20 weeks after planting. In much colder temperate climates, they can be grown as annuals and need to be replanted each year.
Fruit production is highest when nightime temperatures are around 5-20° C (59-68° F).
A choko vine will produce 25 to 100 fruits, averaging around 0.5kg (1 lb.) each. Since chokoes are self-pollinating, only one vine is needed for an abundant supply of fruit. Two vines will produce all the fruit a family can possibly use.
Just like all other members of the cucurbit (cucumber) family, the same plant will produce both male and female flowers. These white to greenish flowers are pollinated by bees, and the vines bloom continually, providing a good nectar source for the bees. The pollinated female flowers form the fruit which mature in 30-35 days.
- In temperate climates, in winter the vines will die back to the ground and re-emerge once again in spring. Take down the dried vines and add them to the compost or lay them around the roots as a mulch.
- In warmer climates, in winter, prune the vines back leaving two to four young shoots which will grow to produce the crop in the following season.
The vines remain productive for 3-5 years, and new ones can be started from harvested choko fruit.
How to Use Choko (Chayote) Fruit
Selection – When selecting choko fruit, choose smooth fruit that aren’t wrinkled and feel heavy for their size, as these have greater moisture content inside. When fruit are very wrinkled, it’s an indication that they’re too old and will tend to be dry and tough on the inside.
Storage – To store choko fruit, keep them refrigerated in a plastic bag which maintains the humidity to prevent them shriveling. for many days or even weeks.
Culinary Use– All parts of the plant are edible, the roots, stems, seeds and leaves.
The choko fruit are used like a vegetable, and as mentioned earlier, the flavour is akin to mild squash with a cucumber-like mild, cool, and slightly sweet flavor with a crispy texture.
Due to their mild taste, they are a versatile cooking ingredient as then usually take on the flavours of the other ingredients used in a dish and add some texture. They can be eaten raw in salads much like a cucumber, or they can be cooked. Older choko fruit can be steamed or stir fried.
It’s also possible to use choko fruit like summer squash or potatoes, they can be baked, fried (as chips), mashed or steamed, through due to their denser texture they require a little more cooking time than a zucchini.
The fruit can also be added to stews, casseroles, and soups to add substance (thicken them up), and combine well as culinary ingredients with tomatoes, onions, capsicum and sweetcorn.
An additional way to use the fruit is to cut them in half, stuff them and bake them. They can even be pickled.
Choko fruit can also be used as an apple substitute for desserts, as it has a similar texture when cooked, as well as a mild apple-like flavour, so it’s often used in mock apple desserts. This probably was the origin of the old urban legend that MacDonalds once used choko (chayote) in their apple pies to bulk them out. Considering that they really do use the same foaming agent used to manufacture yoga mat foam rubber (azodicarbonamide, which releases the carcinogen urethane in the baking process) in their chicken nuggets, I wouldn’t put that beyond them as a way of skimping on using real apples!
When boiling choko fruit so it becomes completely soft for mashing, cut it into slices or pieces and then boil for 5-10 minutes to cook. If using whole or halved fruit, it will take 15–20 minutes to boil.
To sauté or stir-frying julienned choko and retain its crispness, cook it for less than 5 minutes.
The seeds, which are large, flat and ovoid in shape are eaten. The soft seeds, which are referred to as vegetable scallop, have a nutty flavor and can be sautéed in butter or prepared in other ways.
The roots are tuberous and starchy, much like yams are also edible, and can be used in the same way as potatoes, boiled, baked, or fried. They can also be candied in syrup.
The leaves can be eaten too. Young leaves are steamed or boiled like spinach, and the shoots can be used like asparagus tips.
What Are the Health Benefits and Nutritional Value of Choko (Chayote)
Chokoes have a well-rounded nutritional content, they contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
A single choko (chayote) weighing 203 grams provides the following nutrients:
Carbs: 9 grams
Protein: 2 grams
Fat: 0 grams
Fiber: 4 grams — 14% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
Vitamin C: 26% of the RDI
Vitamin B9 (folate): 47% of the RDI
Vitamin K: 10% of the RDI
Vitamin B6: 8% of the RDI
Manganese: 19% of the RDI
Copper: 12% of the RDI
Zinc: 10% of the RDI
Potassium: 7% of the RDI
Magnesium: 6% of the RDI
Chokoes are particularly high in folate (vitamin B9), which important for the promotion of proper cell division, and for supporting healthy pregnancies.
They’re also low in calories, fat, sodium, and total carbohydrates, making them ideal for restricted diets.
They also contain the antioxidants quercetin, myricetin, morin, and kaempferol. The role of antioxidants is to protect against cellular damage, reduce inflammation, and lower stress within your body. Myricetin is present in the highest amounts, which has strong anticancer, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, chokoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, which also serves as an antioxidant in the body. Both vitamin C and other antioxidants can also play a role in reducing the visible signs of aging.
Eating choko fruit may help with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and poor blood flow, which are factors associated with heart disease risk. It contains compounds that relax blood vessels, which improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure. The antioxidant myricetin also been shown to lower cholesterol in animal studies.
They also contain compounds that may improve blood sugar control by increasing sensitivity to insulin through the reduction of the activity of enzymes linked to poor blood sugar control and type 2 diabetes.
In studies, an extract of the choko fruit was shown to reduce fat accumulation in the liver, potentially protecting against fatty liver disease.
It’s rather interesting that a fruit generally described as ‘bland’ can have so many health benefits!
Medicinal Properties of Choko (Chayote)
Chayote has also been used medicinally. The leaves and fruit have diuretic,
cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties, and infusions (teas) made from the leaves were traditionally used to dissolve kidney stones.
- Wisconsin Master Gardener website, Horticulture Information article, Chayote, Sechium edule, 17 Nov 2008 <https://mastergardener.extension.wisc.edu/files/2015/12/chayote.pdf>
- University of Hawaii, Pacific Islands Farm Manual, Tropical Perennial Vegetable Leaflet no. 11, August 1994, Chayote, Vegetable Pear, Choko. <https://gms.ctahr.hawaii.edu/gs/handler/getmedia.ashx?moid=3171&dt=3&g=12>
- Healthine, 10 Impressive Benefits of Chayote Squash, <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/chayote-squash>