Saturday, April 25, 2015

Pipinola , aka: chayote

Pipinolas, that's what we call them in Hawaii. I knew them as chayote back on the Eastcoast. I saw them in the supermarket occasionally, but didn't have the foggiest idea how to prepare and eat them. Besides, they were rather expensive so I passed them by. 

This veggie is super cheap here and not too many people eat them because they are considered "poor people's food" or pig food. People that came from the mainland don't eat them either, but that's because they don't know what they are or what to do with them. 'Tis a shame because they are versatile, quite edible, and easy to least they are in Hawaii. 

Ok, so what are these things? They are a vegetable that is somewhat like a squash, gourd, or cucumber. But instead of lots of seeds it has one large soft seed inside that adheres to the flesh in a way that the entire fruit is used, seed included. It grows on a vine, actual multiple vines from the same root. When one vine is done fruiting, it dies back. But more vines are constantly being produced. One root can easily have a dozen or more vines at the same time. 

Not only are the fruits edible, the entire plant is edible. The vines are fibrous except for the tips. The last 6 inches can be eaten raw or cooked, same as the fruits. The root can also be eaten though I haven't tried it yet. 
(Above photo from

My favorite size to harvest the fruits is when they are 3"-4" long and still have their baby fuzz on the rind. At that stage the fruits can be eaten entirely, no peeling necessary. When they grow larger the rind gets too tough for eating, though the flesh is fine. I'll add pipinolas to stir fry, soups, and stews. Or sautéed them with onions, garlic, and herbs. They make great pickles by just soaking them in old pickle brine for a few weeks in the refrigerator. Plus they are fine raw in salads. 

The vine tips are good in salads, stir fries, stews and soups. They are also good used as greens,cooked with onions, tomatoes, and herbs. 

Growing pipinolas is easy here. They are a tropical plant and respond accordingly with lush growth when fertilized with horse manure and given adequate water. I see many people simply letting them run along the ground. That works ok but I take advantage of their vining habit to utilize space that often goes unplanted. They readily climb trees, so I have most of my pipinolas planted around dead trees, using the trees as a natural trellis. I've had them climb easily 15 to 20 feet up. Harvesting isn't a problem because it is simply a case of pulling the particular vine. The vine is really tough and doesn't break. 
Above is one of my pipinola growing spots. Here they are growing up a tree that is basically dead. I planted three pipinolas around the base of the trunk about four months ago, so the plants are only half grown and not producing fruits yet. 

So how to propagate pipinola? I grow them from seed, the seed = the entire mature fruit. 

The one above is mature, about 6 inches in length, with a hard rind. Because I wasn't quite ready for it,  I set it down on the soil in a shady spot for a couple weeks which prompted it to start sending out roots and a shoot from the puckered end. The seed doesn't need to be presprouted like this, nor does presprouting seem to affect the growth in any way. I don't bother to presprout, preferring to simply set a mature fruit right onto the soil as is. The puckered end sets on the soil or is slightly pushed into the dirt. But the majority of the pipinola itself is exposed, never buried. 

People who have had failures trying to grow pipinolas here ....
....buried the seed/fruit in the soil. 
....try to grow it in a container.
....didn't give it enough water. 
....tried growing it in infertile soil. 
....assumed that when the first vine was spindly and died that the whole plant was dead. Yes I forgot to mention. In less than ideal growing conditions, the first vines tend to be spindly, short, and short lived. But if it gets more water and some fertilizer, the root will put out more vines that will be stronger. 


  1. We love chayote (as I grew up calling them in Cuba where I was born and raised) I have a little chapter with a few recipes in my first cookbook "Tropical Taste" about them and have an article about them in an upcoming issue of Ke Ola Magazine (Sept/Oct)

    As you say, so versatile and easy to grow! I don't know why more people don't grow them!

  2. If you set a fruit in the soil to sprout, how often do you water to get it to sprout?