Exotic fruit of ancient origins, the thorny courgette is a very common vegetable in South American cuisine, where it is called chayote and used just like a “simple” courgette. The delicate flavour and countless beneficial properties are the characteristics of this increasingly well-known and appreciated food.
Also known as Sechio, the thorny courgette is a vegetable, fruit of a plant belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, an exotic product, originally from Central America where it is commonly called chayote. Similar to a large green pear, the thorny courgette is characterized by a very sweet taste slightly reminiscent of the yellow pumpkin and by a skin covered with needles: a poor food, which arrived in Europe many centuries ago and which we find more and more easily even on the counters of our supermarkets. Rich in minerals and vitamins, the thorny courgette has a diuretic and draining effect, is incredibly light and can be used in the kitchen in many recipes. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s time to get to know it better.
What is chayote or thorny courgette
Native to Latin America, particularly Brazil and Costa Rica, chayote is similar in shape to a large pear. It is also called Sechio, centenary pumpkin, thorny potato and wolf’s tongue, as well as thorny courgette: many different names to indicate a green or yellow vegetable with an ovoid shape that can reach up to 15 centimetres in size, similar to a large zucchini covered needle-shaped growths. Eaten both cooked and raw, chayote is incredibly light food, composed mainly of water, low in calories and rich in vitamins. The innermost part of the fruit is the embryo and the seed of the plant, while the surrounding pulp, which is also the edible part, is made up of the accumulation and reserve substance of the seed itself.
Properties of chayote
From a nutritional point of view, chayote is a real concentrate of vitamins, in particular vitamin C and vitamin B, compared to a good quantity of water and a very low caloric intake (100 grams of product in fact contain just 19 calories). Rich in fibre and mineral salts, in particular calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, iron and potassium, the sechio does not contain saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats; low sugar and protein content while there is no lack of polyphenols and antioxidants that make this vegetable an excellent ally for our health.
Ever easier to find on the counters of our supermarkets, the thorny courgette is full of benefits: diuretic, anti-ageing, a friend of the immune system and ally of the bones, here are all the reasons to consume it and always have it within reach of a recipe.
Diuretic: composed mainly of water, the dry has a powerful diuretic effect, stimulates diuresis and, with it, the elimination of excess fluids and toxins;
bone-friendly: calcium helps joint development and protects bones, especially during menopause;
protects and strengthens the defences: vitamin C helps, stimulate and strengthen our immune system;
ally of the skin: again thanks to the presence of vitamin C, chayote promotes the formation of collagen, essential for the elasticity of the skin;
anti-ageing effect: a source of antioxidants, vitamins, mineral salts and flavonoids, courgette helps us fight to age and keep cells and tissues young, counteracting the action of free radicals;
useful in pregnancy: thanks to folic acid, thorny courgette is particularly suitable for pregnant women;
beneficial for the kidneys: by virtue of its diuretic action, thorny courgette helps us keep the kidneys in good health, preventing the onset of stones and helping to dissolve existing ones;
the fibers present in the thorny courgette guarantee a good sense of satiety;
thanks to mineral salts and antioxidant substances, chayote is able to improve and control blood pressure;
controls cholesterol: low in fat and rich in mineral salts, chayote is able to defend and stimulate the cardiovascular system, in particular keeping the level of cholesterol in the blood at bay, preventing dangerous accumulations.
Use in the kitchen
Cooked or raw, the thorny courgette is used in the kitchen just like a “classic” courgette thanks to its delicate flavour reminiscent of yellow squash even if slightly less sweet: once washed and peeled (better if with a prick with needles), the thorny courgette must be seeded and cut according to the recipe you are going to prepare.
In South American cuisine, chayote is used for minestrone, soups and stews but also for mixed salads – especially smaller ones that have a more delicate flavour and can be eaten raw – or stuffed. If you choose to cook it, remember that the sechio does not require long cooking times and that it will be added to the other ingredients only shortly before finishing the preparation. Excellent also steamed for those who prefer healthy and light dishes, the sechio can also be fried in batter, perhaps for an alternative appetizer in the name of new flavours.