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The Versatile Sayote

by Ellon Labana

THE VERSATILE SAYOTE

Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio

The Versatile Sayote. The “hanging green gold.” That was how Northern Dispatch correspondent Arthur L. Allad-iw called sayote due to the crop’s economic value and resilient character.  

“It is high-yielding while requiring little input,” he wrote in an article posted in Bulatlat.  “It is also environment-friendly as it is non-polluting.”

“The sayote vine, which easily grows, knows no boundaries; it climbs over walls to share its fruits and shoots with people who need not ask permission from their neighbor who planted it,” said a report from the Philippine Information Agency in Northern Luzon.

Sayote (scientific name: Sechium edule) is also known as tayota, choko, chocho, chow-chow, christophene, mirliton, and vegetable pear.  It is an edible plant that belongs to the cucurbits family or vine crops that are grown mostly for their fruits like melons, patola, cucumber, kondolupo, and squash.  The green, papaya-shaped vegetable has large leaves that form a canopy over the fruit. The vine is grown on the ground or more commonly on trellises.Sayote comes from the Spanish word chayote (sometimes spelled as chaiote) is known in the science world as Sechium edule.  Other names in English include tayota, choko, chocho, chow-chow, christophine, mirliton, and vegetable pear.  Although most people are familiar only with the fruit, the root, stem, seeds, and leaves are all edible.  Oftentimes, sayote is called a poor man’s vegetables due to the many uses of its different parts.

The fruit does not need to be peeled and can be eaten raw in salads. Cooked or raw, it has a very mild flavor by itself, and is commonly served with seasonings (e.g., salt, butter and pepper in Australia) or in a dish with other vegetables and/or flavorings.  Filipinos peel sayote, cut them into thick slices and then cook with meat or shrimps. 

In Sagada and the whole of Cordillera, sayote provides ready foods from its uggot (tops) and fruits. Uggot can be prepared easily like the fruits which can be chopped and added to the etag (Igorot ham), with or without chicken. Or, sayote can be sautéed and mixed with sardines; it is also an important ingredient for pinikpikan, the Igorot version of the tinola.

Sayote can also be boiled, stuffed, mashed, baked, fried, or pickled.

In Mexico, some people found other and more imaginative uses for sayote – aside from boiling, they make them into candies or slices and fry for table use.  In the Philippines, some candy manufacturers and food processors have found the vegetable an ideal and low-cost base for their various products.  It can also be used to make catsup.

The young leaves and tender shorts go into salads.  The tuberous part of the root is starchy and is both eaten by humans and used as cattle fodder.  The inedible parts or any surplus can be fed to cattle, goats, swine, and other backyard animals.

Unknown to many, the sayote is also a medicinal plant.  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.

Due to its purported cell-regenerative properties, it is believed as a contemporary legend that sayote caused the mummification of people from the Colombian town of San Bernardo who extensively consumed it. The very well preserved skin and flesh can be seen in the mummies today.

What is in a sayote fruit?  Upon analysis, its edible portion per 100 grams gives 94 percent moisture, 19 percent calories, 0.4 gram protein, 0.1 gram fat, 4.9 grams carbohydrates, and 0.6 gram fiber.  Also found in the fruit in small amounts are calcium, sodium, thiamine, vitamin A, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, and niacin.

Researchers from the Laguna-based Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) in Los Baños found sayote to be a good soil restorer.   They found that one good characteristic of sayote is its ability to grow profusely in some areas with gullies.  A striking example was demonstrated in Sto. Niño, Tublay, Benguet where sayote canopy completely rehabilitated gullied areas.

Historical records reveal that even before Hernando Cortes conquered Mexico in 1519, the Aztecs had already been raising the crop.  In the uplands of Malaysia and in the Philippines’ mountain provinces, sayote grows profusely. 

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