Cucurbitaceae (Cucumber family)

Description. Creeping or climbing annual herbaceous plant. Alternate leaves ovate to cordate, 20-40 cm (8-16 in) in diameter, dark green with occasional white spots and petioles up to 30 cm (12 in) long. Solitary, monoecious, yellow-orange female flowers are 7-13 cm (23-43 in) long. Male flowers measure 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8 in). Fruits variably shaped, but most often spherical or pyriform, 2045 cm (8-18 in) long with yellowish-white firm flesh that turns orange-yellow with maturity. Fruits contain numerous flat, elliptical, whitish seeds.

Origin and Distribution. The ayote was probably domesticated in southern Mexico about 5000 BC. Today the fruit is commonly cultivated around the world in tropical and subtropical climates.

Food uses. Immature, green fruits are eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. They are widely used in stews, soups, and meat dishes or simply as a side dish. In Mexico and Central America, diced, boiled fruits are often served as picadillo. Mature fruits are usually eaten cooked. They are also often used in desserts and other sweet dishes such as pie fillings.

The toasted or roasted seeds are salted and eaten as snacks or used in sauces like mole verde, made from tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica, p. 187), green chili peppers, vegetables, and spices. The ground seeds are also used as an ingredient in a meat dish called pipian, made with a spicy chili sauce.

Comments. The plant is also known by the synonym C. mixta. The name ayote, often used in Central America for this fruit, has its origin in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. In Nahuatl the word ayotetl means melon.

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