Carica papaya, a melonlike fruit, was discovered by Spanish explorers in Central America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and quickly became a favorite fruit, nicknamed “the fruit of the angels.” They spread it across the world to other subtropical regions, including the Philippines and India. It has rich orange flesh with pinkish or yellowish hues and can grow up to 20 inches and weigh more than a pound. Fully ripe, it has a soft consistency and sweet, musky taste. The black seeds found at its center are surrounded by a gelatinous substance and are edible though bitter.
Nutritional highlights and health benefits include:
- Excellent source of antioxidant nutrients–carotenes, vitamin C, and flavonoids
- Good source of folic acid, vitamin E, vitamin A, potassium, and fiber
- Contains papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins; it is more concentrated in unripened papaya, and is used similarly to bromalain (in pineapple) to treat conditions like indigestion, hay fever, and allergies
- Provides protective benefits against cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses associated with free-radical damage
Select a papaya that has a reddish-orange skin and is slightly soft to the touch for immediate consumption. Those with yellow patches need a few extra days to ripen at room temperature. Ripe papayas stored in the refrigerator should be consumed withing 1-2 days for maximum flavor and enjoyment. No known allergies or safety concerns are associated with this yummy fruit. Below are a few tips for serving:
- Eat papayas whole or in fruit salad
- Juice them
- Sprinkle with fresh lime juice before eating
- Fill a seedless half of a papaya with fruit salad
- For a unique salsa, combine papaya with cilantro, jalapeno peppers and ginger, and serve with seafood like shellfish or white fish
- Combine in blender with strawberries and yogurt for a cold soup
- Add to skewers and barbecue
- Serve wedges with thinly sliced smoked turkey
- Rather than discarding them, use the seeds in cooking as a garnish (atop a salad) or like whole peppercorns (dried and ground in a blender) as they have a spicy, pepperlike taste
- Cut in half, de-seed, and sprinkle cavities with cinnamon and nutmeg and bake like you would apples
- Unripe papaya can be treated like a vegetable (i.e. add to stews)
Fruit from a papaya tree, which can grow upwards of 20 feet, will start appearing about 18 months after planting. Its fruit is spherical or oblong in shape. Hybrids include Babaco (Ecuadoran and yellow, but can get mushy if cooked too long), Mexican (can reach up to two feet in length and weigh up to 10 pounds, and come in red and yellow varieties!), and Solo (most commonly seen in supermarkets, grown in Hawaii, and come in “Sunrise” and “Strawberry” varieties).
For more about this luscious fruit, check out this article from Dr. Oz!
Murray, Michael N.D., Pizzorno, Joseph N.D., and Pizzorno, Lara M.A., L.M.T. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Atria Books, New York, NY, 2005; p. 299-301.
Margen, Sheldon M.D. and the editors of UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Wellness Foods A-Z: An Indispensable Guide for Health-conscious Food Lovers. Rebus, Inc, New York, NY, 2002; p. 438-439, 524.