The papaya (Carica papaya) is a spherical or pear-shaped fruit that can be as long as 20 inches/ 50 cm. Papayas commonly found in the market usually average about 7 inches/18 cm and weigh about 1 pound/1/2 kilogram. Their ﬂesh is a rich orange color with either yellow or pink hues.
Papaya has a wonderfully soft consistency and a sweet, musky taste. Inside the inner cavity of the fruit are round, black seeds encased in a gelatin-like substance. These seeds are edible, though they are quite bitter.
The papaya originated in Central America. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it quickly became favored by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, who took papayas from Central America to many other subtropical lands, including India, the Philippines, and parts of Africa. In fact, the papaya was so beloved by the explorers that Christopher Columbus called it “the fruit of the angels.”
In the twentieth century, papayas were brought to the United States and have been cultivated in Hawaii, the major U.S. producer since the 1920s. Today, the largest commercial producers of papayas include the United States, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.
Papaya Nutritional Highlights
Papayas are an excellent source of antioxidant nutrients, such as carotene, vitamin C, and ﬂavonoids. They are also a very good source of folic acid, vitamins E and A, potassium, and dietary ﬁber. A 100 gram serving is about 1/3 of a medium papaya and provides 39 calories, 0.6 grams of protein, 0.1 grams of fat, and 9.8 grams of carbohydrate, with 1.8 grams of ﬁber and 5.9 grams of natural sugars.
Papaya Health Benefits
The fruit, as well as the other parts of the papaya tree, contains papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins. Papain is more concentrated in the fruit when it is unripe.
In addition to providing protective beneﬁts against cancer, heart disease, and other diseases associated with free-radical damage, papayas are valued for their papain content. This protein-digesting enzyme is used in digestive enzyme dietary supplements and is also used as an ingredient in many meat tenderizers. It is also used in a similar manner as bromelain from pineapple to treat a number of conditions, such as indigestion, chronic diarrhea, hay fever, sports injuries and other causes of trauma, and allergies.
How to Select and Store Papaya
If you want to eat papayas within a day of purchase, choose those that have reddish orange skin and are slightly soft to the touch. Papayas that have patches of yellow color will take a few more days to ripen. Avoid papayas that are totally green or overly hard, as their ﬂesh will not develop its characteristic sweet juicy ﬂavor.
Papayas that are partially yellow should be left at room temperature, where they will ripen in a few days. If you want to speed this process, place them in a paper bag with a banana. Ripe papayas should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within one to two days to enjoy their maximum ﬂavor.
Tips for Preparing Papaya
Papayas should be sprayed with a solution of diluted additive-free soap or commercial produce wash and then scrubbed under cool running water with a vegetable brush. After washing the fruit, cut it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. If it is being consumed simply with a spoon, a little lemon or lime juice can be squeezed on top.
To cut papaya into smaller pieces for fruit salad or other recipes, peel it with a paring knife, cut it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and then cut it into the desired size and shape. You can also use a melon baller to scoop out the fruit of a halved papaya. If you are adding papaya to a fruit salad, you should do so just before serving, as it tends to cause the other fruits to become very soft.
Quick Serving Ideas for Papaya
- Eat papayas whole or in fruit salads, or juice them.
- Sprinkle papaya with fresh lime juice and enjoy as is.
- Slice a small papaya lengthwise and ﬁll with fruit salad.
- Mix diced papaya, fresh coriander, jalapeno peppers, and ginger to make a unique salsa that goes great with prawns, scallops, and halibut.
- Combine diced papaya, chopped cooked chicken breast, onions, and cashew nuts with soy mayonnaise to make a chicken salad with a tropical ﬂair.
- In a blender, combine papaya, strawberries, and yogurt for a cold soup treat.
- If you have a papaya that is not too soft, cut it into medium-size cubes. Place the papaya on a skewer with small onions (or other vegetables of your choice) and grill for about ten minutes. Serve as a side dish with a variety of different entrées.
Papaya is not associated with any signiﬁcant safety issues.