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Difficulty Handling Chayotes

  • w

Was trying to cook chayotes for the first time last night and began peeling this green veggie-fruit. While grasping the thing in my left hand and paring with the right, it sweated a sticky sap on my hand. Within moments I noticed a tingling sensation. I stopped, rinsed my left hand, noting a particular sqeakiness, then resumed with a plastic glove -- to no avail however, for the tingling persisted into a numbness and my skin began feeling very tight. Being on the prissier side, I completely stopped, washed my hands several times with different soaps, then anointed copious lotions and oils. With no change but not wanting to further delay grub-prep, I continued dinner while my bf searched his med text for possible explanations or hazards. Nothing. Later when the sensations stopped my skin was cracked, peeling and scaly. By this morning all the symptoms were gone, but the beast had effectively removed at least one layer of skin.

The cooked chayotes by the way were delicious and homey. I have had them previously only in Mexican soups and did not realize their natural sweetness. Similar taste to Taiwanese/Vietnamese okra.

Was this an isolated experience? Are there any neutralizers? Is there a method in preparation? Should I stop experimenting with foods I randomly choose in the supermarkets because they're on sale?

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  1. Sounds like you had an allergic reaction. I've handled chayotes plenty of times and never had that kind of reaction. Do you know if you have other similar food allergies? You might want to check.

    1. d
      Dancin' Cook

      My husband and I both have this reaction to raw chayotes. We haven't found any solution besides washing frequently while handling them.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Dancin' Cook

        You could all try wearing gloves -- latex or other, with or without powder (also allergens). You can buy them in the drugstore, in boxes of 50. But wash your hands well afterwards anyway.

        1. re: CTer
          Dancin' Cook

          On the other hand, chayote facials might someday replace acid peels and laser surgery to melt away those unsightly wrinkles..... ;-)

      2. b
        Buen Provecho

        I use chayotes pretty often and have noticed the same squeaky sensation you mentioned. When possible, I scrub them well and leave unpeeled (but be aware that this only works well with dishes that have fairly long cooking times - otherwise the skin is too tough to chew easily). An alternative when you feel they must be peeled is to insert an old fashioned type corkscrew with the perpendicular handle into the unpeeled chayote, and peel away to your heart's content without having to continually touch them with bare or gloved hands. Just as an aside I think that in Southern cookbooks you'll see chayotes referred to as merlitons.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Buen Provecho

          A fork works well to hold just about anything when pealing it...

        2. y


          I prepare chayotes quite often, and was taught a little trick in handling them. What I do is cut them in half and then briskly rub the cut sides together to draw out the white sap. When it foams then solidifies, I rinse the chayotes in cool water, then pare/peel the outer skin.

          Hope this helps.

          1. lol... 6 years later... I just got really freaked out cuz my hand started peeling. I have had a really bad allergic reaction to expired food one time when I was younger where I was hospitalized. When my hand reacted to Chayote.. I was thinking.. maybe I shouldn't eat it... but I guess it happens to other people too. I guess I can eat it after it's cooked >_< .. Thanks for sharing the experience... I'm glad it's not just me. lol

            1. We don't peel them, just wash, cut in half to remove seed, then cut into wedges or dice.

              1. I pick small to medium chayotes and neither peel them or remove the seed (it is edible and some consider it the best part of the of the fruit. Just slice them 1/4-1/2" thick after washing and halving them. Place cut side down of the split fruit for stability and slice away ignoring the seed.

                1 Reply
                1. re: LRunkle

                  I commented to my husband today as I was making lunch that we probably don't need to remove the seed. He said he doesn't, so I left it in. I learn something every day!

                2. Funny, this is the second time in a week I have heard about sap and chayote. I first had chayote at a restaurant in Mexico where they left the skin on, cut them in half and precooked them in an oven (wrapped in foil, I think). Then they finished them on a wood grill and topped them with creme fresh and parmesan cheese. I thought they were to die for so have done them at home also that way with no problem with any type of sap or numbness. I have also never removed the center seed. They smell and taste reminds me of artichokes (maybe that is just me). I am going to have to buy some more now next trip to the store and spend some more time handling them to see what happens. Interesting

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jodymaryk

                    FYI... it was likely Crema & Cotija... not Creme Fraiche & Paramesan.

                  2. I've given up handling the prickly variety. I have no idea how people peel those.
                    The smooth variety are much friendlier.

                    Image included with this reply.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Cheese Boy

                      The females have smooth skin, the males have prickly skin. JFYI

                      1. re: cygnet2

                        I've seen the idea that female=smooth and male=warty and/or prickly in cookbooks and food websites, but I've never seen it from any academic source. For example, the following PDFs mention the female and male flowers and also mention the smooth and prickly variants -- but they don't make any connection between them.




                        (Btw, the first PDF mentions the irritant properties, but doesn't explain the cause.)

                        1. re: drongo

                          I'm fairly sure that, being basically a fruit or seed-holder, a chayote has a neutral gender. There may be different varieties, obviously.

                          1. re: EWSflash

                            Chayote is what's called a monoecious plant -- it has male and female flowers on the same vine. So while the entire plant is "neutral gender" as you say, the flowers (and associated fruit) are male or female.

                            1. re: drongo

                              I've always considered the food and cooking websites and books to be the experts, so I'll go with that, LOL.
                              You will also find smooth and prickly chayote on the same vine...At least the one in my backyard has both and I know it's not grafted.

                              1. re: drongo

                                Actually, I meant that the fruits are gender neutral.Flowers would be male or female, but only the female flowers bear fruit, using the male flowers for pollination, right?
                                Probably didn't say that, but thanks for clarifying.

                      2. it will be gone tje next day??? sure???
                        im having the peelings now on my hand
                        it scares me to hell

                        1. I just bought this vegetable for the first time today and I peeled it and was about to add it to a soup when my palms of my hands started drying out and peeling like crazy!! I tried washing my hands and it just peeled worse. Then I scrubbed my palms with a nail brush, applied rubbing alcohol and then applied hand lotion. It's now 4 hours later and I'm still peeling, although not as badly now. That's one vegetable I think I leave out of my diet!!
                          Thanks for sharing your comments, at least I don't feel so alone about this!!!

                          1. A skin reaction or dermatitis is quite common when handling chayote and other cucurbit family foods, which includes squash and pumpkins. Lots of info and medical studies out there that identify the irritant.

                            Here's one study, but there are many:
                            Allergy to pumpkin and cross-reactivity to other Cucurbitaceae fruits

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              I peeled the chayote and cut it . On the hand that handled the chayote I had that reaction where my skin tightened and felt numb. Then I saw cracking and peeling of my skin. I was afraid to eat it after that. I tried to access the link regarding the studies but nothing came up.

                              1. re: dbjcompany

                                I just checked -- the articles are there. This is not an uncommon reaction to Cucurbitaceae fruits, but I'm sure it's painful and alarming when it happens to you. See a dermatologist if need be.

                            2. This is exactly what I experienced last night!!!! Thanks for sharing that I know I'm not the only one!!!!

                              1. I'm going to have to try chayotes again. You all are saying how sweet and nutty and yummy they are, but i've tried them several times (though not in the last 25 years or so, becauuuuuse->) and found them to be the most boring, flavorless things on the planet, next to spaghetti squash, which I won't be trying again. Chayotes weren't very common at the time around here, so maybe they just weren't the best quality.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: EWSflash

                                  Stuffed mirlitons (chayote) are excellent. Cut in half, boil until tender, scoop out the insides and cook with ground meat, rice, or shrimp (chopped up), some cheese and top with soime bread crumbs and bake in the oven for a while. Excellent stuff. Grew up on these as my grandfather had a mirliton vine in his backyard.

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    I would say you won't like them any better now. They taste a bit like summer squash, but with a more solid texture. Mainly they are good as fillers in things ... say like soups. If you think about it potatoes don't have all that much flavor either. It is what you do to them that makes them tasty. The boiled potato on its own, probably wouldn't be a popular veggie.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      True, but I do love summer squash and like potatoes just fine. Also tofu. I just couldn't believe that anybody who wasn't actually starving would bother cooking and eating them. Well, maybe I'll grow a vine next year and see if the homegrown ones are any better.

                                      1. re: EWSflash

                                        OMG ... don't do it. It will take over your yard. It makes kudzu look like a wimpy plant.

                                        Seriously, I took it personal the day the chayote vine leaped from the fence and covered the kitchen door ... overnight. That plant gave me nightmares. When the cat was missing a few days, I started to suspect the chayote. Here's some of my experiences

                                        Prickly chayotes gone wild


                                        The revenge of the Chayote leaves


                                        Chayote chronicles part 1 – raw, fried, boiled, microwaved ... wonderful and so pretty


                                        I was a little naive at first about this little garden of horrors plant.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          We ran into this problem with a mirliton vine last year. My son wanted to try growing a vine, and I had a wide open spot between my dog kennel and along the back fence, so we planted some.

                                          A couple of months later, half of our back fence had disappeared from sight, and my dog was living in a very shady kennel, until a cold snap killed off the vine.

                                          On the plus side, we did have a lot of mirlitons to eat that year. Also my dog and our Nubian goats gained a few pounds munching on all of the low hanging fruits, and overhanging vines.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            LOL- that would be a true anomoly in my yard, the only attack plant I've had was epazote, which it turns out I really dislike.Comes back like clockwork every year, and we even moved once.
                                            Do you really think it will grow that invasively in Tucson in June, when the temps are 107 and the humidity is nearly zero? If that's the case I'll plant them around DH's stupid RV, which gets driven religiously once a year, to emissions testing. It would be a visual improvement and I might even get to like chayotes.

                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                              When rworange compares it to kudzu, he ain't joking. The vines grow pretty fast down here in Florida. Then again, we get some serious rain down here during our rainy season.

                                              My grandfather told me that mirlitons really don't need much, nor really even like a lot of water, and that you can pretty much eat the whole plant. He said that back during the Depression, they used to eat the younger shoots as greens, and eat the fruits and roots like potatoes.

                                              I have to imagine that up there in AZ, y'all might have some problems growing it without doing a weekly watering. On the other hand, if you've got wormseed/epazote growing in the yard, y'all might be getting enough water to grow chayotes. I'd just suggest germinating a seed in a pot, and then planting it right at the beginning of the rainy season, and see how it turns out.

                                              After all, it's a Mexican gourd, so I have to imagine that it'll do fairly well in most arid, subtropical, or tropical environments.

                                              1. re: deet13

                                                I have to grow it, then. I need something to take over the yard and produce edibles- that hasn't happened at this house.

                                                1. re: EWSflash

                                                  I don't know how sandy/dry the soul is up there, but I have to assume that it's fairly dry. If that's the case, then I'd suggest spreading a bag of mulch in advance over the area you plan on growing the vine in.

                                                  Otherwise, mirliton/chayote is a highly aggressive, and very productive vine. So if you can get one growing by this spring, you should have a pretty good harvest come fall. And if it takes like it should, you'll probably only need to plant one...

                                                  Just don't forget that once chayote takes to the soil, it can literally (not figuratively) choke out everything around it. So treat it like kudzu. Keep the vine away from the house, decorative plants, gardens, power lines, and any slow moving family members you might have...

                                            2. re: rworange

                                              Loved your reaction! Especially the bit about the cat gone missing! LOL

                                      2. A woman I work with gave me some cooked chayotes recently and I thought it was delicious. She steamed it like a potato or artichoke, then peeled away the skin and ate the inside. No cutting ahead of time, so no reaction to the inside.
                                        She specifically mentioned preferring the prickly ones. The flavor was subtle but delicious and it had such a comforting smell and texture.

                                        1. I found this site by searching on how to peel these things...I purchased one of the prickly ones and it looks like I won't be eating it (since I can't figure out HOW to peel the thing). However, I wanted to comment on the peeling/tingling issue. I cannot handle pumpkin (the jack-o-lantern type) OR crooked neck squash...same issue happens with me (peeling/tingling). My husband is the one who guts the pumpkins at Halloween and peels the squash for cooking (we use the meat for pumpkin pies). I can eat the product, but I can't handle it until it's cooked/steamed/roasted.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: pam225

                                            wow, I never knew that there were prickly ones. I'm thai and we put Chayote in chicken broth when we want to make light tasting soups. The chayote makes the flavor of the broth sweeter :).

                                            1. re: pontiki

                                              Funny, I didn't know the non-prickly one existed. In Mexico, "parir chayotes" (literally, to give birth to chayotes) is an expression used when somebody has gone through a very though time, which is what it would be like to give birth to prickly chayotes!