Papaya: Know Your Fruits and Veggies™

By Dawn M. Swidorski

Papayas are native to southern Mexico and neighboring Central America and are now cultivated in every tropical and subtropical country.

Food - papaya2Papayas are a pear-shaped fruit that can be as long as 20 inches, though the ones found in the market usually average about 7 inches, weigh about one pound and have yellow skin when ripe. The flesh is bright yellow, orange, pink or deep rose (depending on variety) with small black seeds clustered in the center.

A properly ripened papaya is juicy, sweet with musky undertones somewhat like a cantaloupe in flavor with a soft, butter-like consistency. The fruit (and leaves) contain papain which helps digestion and is used to tenderize meat. The edible seeds have a spicy flavor somewhat reminiscent of black pepper.

Called “fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus, papayas were once considered exotic, though they can now be found in markets throughout the year. Although there is a slight seasonal peak in early summer and fall, papaya trees produce fruit year round.

Papayas offer not only the luscious taste and sunlit color of the tropics, but are rich sources of antioxidant nutrients such as carotenes, vitamin C and flavonoids; the B vitamins, folate and pantothenic acid; and the minerals, potassium and magnesium; and fiber.

How to Select and Store Papaya

If you want to eat them within a day of purchase, choose papayas that have reddish-orange skin and are slightly soft to the touch. A few black spots on the surface will not affect the papaya’s taste but avoid those that are bruised or overly soft. Those that have patches of yellow color will take a few more days to ripen. Papayas that are partially yellow should be left at room temperature where they will ripen in a few days. To speed ripening place them in a paper bag with a banana.

Papayas that are totally green or overly hard can be cooked or used in a cold dish like an Asian salad but their flesh lacks its characteristic sweet juicy flavor.

Ripe papayas should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within one or two days.

Tips for Preparing Papaya

Papayas can be used many different ways. They can be eaten as is, added to a fruit salad or to a host of different recipes.

One of the easiest ways to eat papaya is like a melon. After washing the fruit, cut it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and then eat it with a spoon. For a little extra zest, squeeze lemon or lime juice on top.

To cut papaya into smaller pieces for fruit salad or recipes, first peel it with a paring knife and then cut into desire size and shape. You can also use a melon baller to scoop out the fruit of a halved papaya. If you are adding it to a fruit salad, you should do so just before serving as it tends to cause the other fruits to become very soft.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

  • Mix diced papaya, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and ginger together to make a unique salsa that goes great with shrimp, scallops and halibut.
  • Sprinkle papaya with fresh lime juice and enjoy as is.
  • Slice a small papaya lengthwise and fill with fruit salad.
  • In a blender, combine papaya, strawberries and yogurt for a cold treat