THE chayote has come a long way from a poor man's crop, and/or vegetable growing wild in a space where its fruits and young shoots are harvested by anyone who is in need.
The crop has, through the years, become an important economic crop among the highland farmers of the Cordilleras.
Quite surprisingly, the chayote squash is rich in nutrients: Rich in nutrients: Calories (39). Carbs (9 grams), Protein (2 grams), Fat (0 grams), Fiber (4 grams - 14% of the Reference Daily Intake or RDI), Vitamin C (26% of the RDI), Vitamin B9 (folate) (47% of the RDI), and Vitamin K (10% of the RDI).
The chayote's use in the international community as a food recipe (sautéed, soup, pickles, vegan, and baby food) is now known by Filipinos. This has generated increased demand for chayote in the nation's eateries, restaurants, and hotels.
I believe the rising commercial demand for chayote in the country was ushered by the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991.
Before that date, chayote was hardly known by the greater majority of Filipinos except those residing in the highlands of Benguet and Mountain Province.
The volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo was the second-largest in this century and was recorded as the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area. The eruption produced high-speed avalanches of hot ash and gas, giant mudflows, and a cloud of volcanic ash hundreds of miles across.
The volcanic ash and mudflows affected several communities in almost all provinces of Central Luzon in 1991-1992.
The affected communities were in dire need of food. In Baguio City, Operation Sayote was the main avenue for the local folks to donate cash, medicines, food, vegetables, and sacks of chayote (probably tons and tons of chayote) were regularly shipped to the lowlands. It came to a point that the communities were reportedly fed up with chayote as a relief good.
Chayote was sustained as a regular relief commodity from the highlands to the lowlands during succeeding typhoon calamities that affected the Tagalog and Bicol regions.
When the chayote became known as an alternative vegetable to papaya and other lowland vegetables, demand was created. Now chayote is being processed into pickles, and other food recipes (sautéed, soup, vegan, and baby food).
Back here in the highlands, the Benguet State University has yet added to the growing number of chayote recipes with its "Chayote Ice Cream With Strawberries."
The contribution of consumers in the preparation of chayote recipes contributes to the increasing demand for chayote in the nation's homes, eateries, restaurants, and hotels.
Today, chayote is no longer shipped as a relief good but as a commercial commodity. The crop now occupies prominent spaces in the slopes of our mountain slopes and farms, tended by our farmers like they do with the other crops of commercial value.
But unlike any fruit, vine, or other vegetables, chayote requires minimal management and production inputs. That may be one reason why it is a crop that can easily be donated which is a good thing. Chayote is a nutritious crop that is grown almost organically.
This precious crop yields its fruits in abundance during the rainy months of June to October. For highlanders, it is best cooked with pinikpikan and etag.