Cool stuff I didn't know about chayote

For years, my mum would talk about this green vegetable called chou chou. All I knew was I didn’t want to eat it as a kid. While I still haven’t tried it (I don’t think, at least not knowingly), I knew it was part of my heritage and I recently discovered it on holiday in France… with spiny skin! So I looked it up and finally found out more about this mysterious vegetable.

The facts of chayote

  • It’s technically a fruit.
  • Its more common name is chayote, derived from the Nahuatl word chayohtli. Chou chou is used predominately in Jamaica but also Mauritius and it is also called christophene in the UK and other parts of the Caribbean (I know my Bajan dad calls it that). They call it chuchu in Brazil.
  • It’s part of the gourd family (pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, luffa, and some other melons).
  • Sometimes they’re spiny, sometimes they’re smooth.
  • Besides the fruit, the root, stem, seeds and leaves are also edible.
  • The fruit is high in amino acids and vitamin C while both the leaves and fruit have anti-inflammatory properties and can act as a diuretic. The leaves can also make tea that people have used to treat high blood pressure and kidney stones.
  • It’s used in a variety of global dishes in the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa and Europe.

My favourite chayote story involved McDonalds and apple pies in Australia:

In Australia, a persistent urban legend is that McDonald’s apple pies were made of chokos (chayotes), not apples. This eventually led McDonald’s to emphasise the fact that real apples are used in their pies. This legend was based on an earlier belief that tinned pears were often disguised chayotes. A possible explanation for the rumor (sic) is that there are a number of recipes in Australia that advise chayotes can be used in part replacement of canned apples to make the fruit go farther in making apple pies. This likely arose because of the economies of “mock” food substitutes during the Depression Era, shortages of canned fruit in the years following World War II, and the fact that apples do not grow in many tropical and subtropical parts of Australia, making them scarce. Chayotes, on the other hand, grow extensively in Australia, with many suburban backyards featuring chayote vines growing along their fence lines and outhouses.

via Wikipedia

Chayote recipes

Here are some recipes I found on the internet. Please check the ingredients for further dietary requirements. Dairy alternatives can be used in place of things like butter, cheese or milk:

Figs and wasps: a mutual relationship

Do Figs Really Have Dead Wasps In Them?

My mum reminded me that I explained how figs were formed a while ago (I’d completely forgotten this but I blame that on the pandemic). The above video explains how wasps play a pivotal role in the survival of figs (their relationship is known as mutualism) but here’s a brief excerpt from Julie R. Thomson:

In simple terms, figs are technically not a fruit ― they are inverted flowers. Fig trees don’t flower like apples and peaches. Their flowers bloom inside the pear-shaped pod, which later matures into the fruit we eat. Each flower then produces a single, one-seeded, hard-shelled fruit called achene ― that’s what gives the fig the crunch we know ― and the fig is made up of multiple achene. So when we eat a fig we are actually eating multiple fruits.

But that’s not the end of the uniqueness that sets the fig apart.

Because fig flowers bloom internally, they need a special process for pollination. They cannot rely on the wind or bees to spread their pollen ― that’s where the fig wasp comes in. The fig cannot survive without the fig wasp to spread its genetic material, and the fig wasp cannot live without the fig, because that’s where it lays its larva ― this relationship is known as mutualism.

The female fig wasp enters the male fig ― we don’t eat the male figs, by the way ― to lay its eggs. The male fig is shaped in a way to accommodate the laying of wasp eggs. The female wasp’s wings and antennae break off when entering the small passage in the fig so once it’s in, there is no way out. It’s up to the baby wasps to continue the life cycle. Male baby wasps are born without wings, because their sole purpose is to mate with the female offspring ― technically their sister ― and dig a tunnel out of the fig. It’s the female offspring that make the journey out, bringing pollen with them.

If a fig wasp enters a female fig accidentally ― the ones we eat ― instead of a male one, there is no room in the interior for it to reproduce. And it cannot escape, because its wings and antennae have broken off. So the wasp dies inside, which is unfortunate but necessary because that’s how it delivers the pollen giving us the fruit we love.

Because of this relationship, figs aren’t considered vegan.

What is it with wasps and weird relationships with nature?

How'd you like them apples?

William Mullan has an Instagram account called @pomme_queen. It’s dedicated to unique apple variants and flowers and this year, he put wrote “Odd Apples“, a book about those unorthodox cultivars.

Where does this fascination come from? Apparently, it began during childhood when Mullan discovered the Egremont-Russet apple variety. But it wasn’t until years later, during a trip to a farmer’s market in New York, that Mullan decided to explore the subject artistically. There, he bit into a Pink Pearl for the first time, and the taste gave him such an experience that from then on, he began to photograph apples in an “extraordinary way”.

via Creative Boom

Of all the apples on show, my favourite is the Black Oxford (top right) because it reminds me of the Galaxy frog which I’ll hopefully cover on this site in the future. It looks so… celestial.

Apple-related: Indo apples, samurai, and Japanese farmers

TIL: you can eat banana peels

banana peel bacon

As a kid, I loved bananas to the point where Bananaman was one of my favourite superheroes. But I always knew that you shouldn’t eat the peels. Until today.

I saw this tweet (quote tweeted by Swiss Miss) and thought “banana peel bacon?! Surely not” but lo and behold, banana peels are edible:

While the thought of eating a banana peel may be hard for some to stomach, it’s a common ingredient in many cuisines around the world.

The peel of a banana makes up about 35% of the ripe fruit and is often discarded rather than consumed.

However, using the peel is a great way to reduce food waste while squeezing some extra vitamins and minerals into your diet.

In fact, banana peels are not only edible but also rich in several key nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fats, and essential amino acids.

(via Healthline)

You can’t talk about bananas and not mention potassium. It’s the law!

Indo apples, samurai, and Japanese farmers

Indo apple

Gastro Obscura’s Emily Warren wrote about Japan’s apple history, including the nation’s first cultivated apple, the Indo apple:

Prior to a trip to the United States in 1871, Hosokawa Junjirō—who is best known as a legislator, not a farmer—heard from an American agriculturist employed by the Meiji government that apples would be worth growing in Japan. While traveling in the United States on a mission to study the country, Hosokawa acquired a large number of Ralls Janet apples, a variety famously cultivated by Thomas Jefferson. The trees arrived in Japan in 1874, and within the next year, they were distributed to research sites in Hokkaido, northern Honshū, and Nagano. Apples also found their way into farming communities through other pathways. John Ing, a Methodist missionary in Aomori, introduced a different sort of apple to Hirosaki City, and from it, former samurai Kikuchi Kurō cultivated Japan’s first apple, calling it “Indo,” after Ing’s home state of Indiana. This would become the parent breed of a number of popular Japanese varieties, such as the Crispin.

After hard work and a number of decades, the Fuji apple in 1939 when pollen from Red Delicious apple plants was mixed with Ralls Janet flower pistil. It was originally named “Agriculture-Forestry No.7” but almost ceased to exist:

As World War II raged, the apple-growing communities of Japan struggled. In 1941, an early frost wrecked the crop. In 1944, it was a typhoon; the next year it was an ill-timed snowfall that completely wiped out the harvest. Just after the war ended, a man-made disaster ensued in the form of new taxes that knocked the wind out of the apple industry, followed by a price collapse in 1948.

Of course the Fuji apple didn’t disappear and with some clever marketing and a reignition of the apple industry in the 50’s, it was back and more successful than ever.

Today, the Fuji apple is one of the most popular apple cultivars in the US and in China in 2016, its fresh apple exports reached 986,000 tons of which Red Fuji apples accounted for about 70% (my rough maths says that’s the equivalent weight of over 100,000 African elephants).