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Pipinola: Poor People’s Food?

Posted January 6, 2017, 08:49 AM HST Updated January 6, 2017, 09:12 AM HST


    Known as “poor people’s food” or “pig food,” pipinola grows well here in Hawai‘i and can often be found growing in the wild. The actual name of this underused vegetable is chayote.

    So exactly what is it, one may ask, and what do you do with it?

    Pipinola is actually a member of the gourd family, along with melons, cucumbers and squash.

    Native to Mesoamerica, it can now be found in almost all regions of the world. It is often found in Thai and Chinese soups and stews.

    Unlike other members of the gourd family that contain many seeds, the pipinola has one large soft seed in the middle that adheres to the flesh of the fruit. It grows on a vine that sprouts multiple vines. When one vine is done bearing fruit, it dies back and another one replaces it. One single root can have over a dozen vines bearing fruit at the same time.

    The entire plant is edible. The single seed in the middle has a chestnut-like texture and taste. The flesh can be described as crisp and almost like a water chestnut or raw potato. The vines tend to be very fibrous except for very tips.

    The vines tend to be very fibrous, except for the very tips. The last 6 to 8 inches of the vine and young heart-shaped leaves can be picked and eaten raw, or blanched and added to salads or even used in stir fry and soups.

    The tuberous roots of the plant can be eaten like a yam.


    It is recommended that the fruits be harvested when they are approximately 4 to 5 inches long and still have their “baby fuzz” on the rind. At this stage there is no need to peel away the rind. Note: the rind does get quite tough for eating when it is older; however, the fleshy part inside is fine.

    Due to its mild flavor, this versatile fruit easily takes on the flavors of sauces and spices and it can be used to make pies, stir fry, soups and stews and can even pickled by simply slicing thin and soaking in your leftover pickle juice for a few weeks.

    Pigs adore pipinola fruit and many hog farmers utilize this it as a supplement to the other pig feed.

    It is considered a healthy, low-calorie food. One-half cup of pipinola contains approximately 15 calories. It is rich in amino acids and is found to contain small amounts of iron and calcium.

    Many cultures throughout the world have utilized the leaves of the pipinola vine to make a tea to help dissolve kidney stones as well as to help treat arteriosclerosis and hypertension. It is also reported to be a great diuretic and have cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties.

    Pipinola has the potential to be a great sustainable food source for the island community if it is utilized more.

    The next time you see the odd-looking, wrinkled, pear-shaped fruit in the supermarket or farmers market or even growing wild on the side of the road… remember it’s more than poor people or pig food.

    Pipinola fruit ready to be prepared. Darde Gamayo photo.

    Healthy pipinola vine growing in the wild. Darde Gamayo photo.

    Young shoots and leaves of the pipinola vine. Darde Gamayo photo.

    Pipinola fruit on vine. Darde Gamayo photo.

    Darde Gamayo
    Darde Gamayo wen graduate from Honoka'a High & Intermediate in 1986. Her also known as “Tita Nui,” cause her one tita en her is nui. Her is da winna of da 2009 Ms. Aloha Nui Contess. Which is wat wen help her get her da job on da numba 1 rayjo station on dis island, KAPA Rayjo! Her is da weeken mid day DJ. You can catch her on KAPA from 6 p.m. to midnight Mondayz true Fridayz. Her is one blhog writah fo da BigIslandNow.com. Her write bout all kine stuffez, like how da mongoose wen come hea, wat collah da sand on da beach, pineapple in yo food and wat eva kine stuff her tink of. Her get choken udda stuff her like fo do like, write, read, go fishin' and her love to cook too... And wen you look at her you no she like fo eat, too! Her stay livin in Waipi‘o Valley with her honey, Darren, and the rest of their ‘ohana.

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    Linda Marten Sauté it like squash, cayote, I think.January 06, 2017 09:20am
    Linda Marten ChayoteJanuary 06, 2017 09:26am
    John Rosner Sauté in butter and garlic salt. KillahsJanuary 06, 2017 10:18am
    Linda Rios Timothy CastroJanuary 06, 2017 11:38am
    Rob See Soak in vinegar shoyu or Kim chee. Life will never be the same. No more pig food left lol.January 06, 2017 12:14pm
    Romel Palafox Us Filipinos use it to make soup with chicken. Or blanch the shoots and add bagoong (fish sauce)January 06, 2017 01:11pm
    Antonia Wenberg In Louisiana it's called merlitons. Like squash. Boil like potatoes mix with ground meat, butter.January 06, 2017 04:03pm
    Barbara Javonillo Same as squash, just smaller variety, tasty in soup..never tried the shoots, but if it has patis it's good !! My step-dad was filipino so I learned to cook & eat all kinds of foods growing up.January 06, 2017 04:42pm
    Crystal Herring-Hill Jason Hill yum yumJanuary 06, 2017 05:01pm
    Ricky Saplan Soup. Pipinola Shoots too....January 06, 2017 05:34pm
    Leslie Carroll Yum. And they grow very easily here.January 06, 2017 06:16pm
    Genny Lance Akana sabaw aka soup with either chicken or pork like chicken pipinola instead of papayaJanuary 06, 2017 07:09pm
    Костя Савич pickled is gooood too!January 06, 2017 07:29pm
    Karen Francisca Miller Ygaña Glad to know it's edible..January 06, 2017 09:20pm
    Andrea Waiwaiole Luna Chayote same as squash make in soups with ground beef many ways to makeJanuary 06, 2017 09:37pm
    J Millan Mendoza Saute with pork meat and shrimp with tomatoes, garlic and onion a little bit of water and patis you can also add the shoots if you likeJanuary 07, 2017 01:47pm
    Jermaine Curtis Just cut um in half boil with salt and eat with some melted butter on it with black paper and garlic salt. So OnoJanuary 07, 2017 02:01pm

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