Other names: Papaya (Papaw, Pawpaw Tree Melon)
Availability: All year.
Source: Caribbean, Central America, Brazil and the U.S.
Handling Tips: Store at 50° F. Ripen at room temp.
General Information: The Papaya originated in Central America, but is now grown in every tropical and sub-tropical country in the world. The plant is actually a giant herb rather than a tree. In Australia and a few other countries in the Commonwealth of Great Britain, the fruit goes by the name of Papaw or Paw Paw.
There are two types of papayas, Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian varieties are the papayas commonly found in supermarkets. These pear-shaped fruit generally weigh about 1 pound and have yellow skin when ripe. The flesh is bright orange or pinkish, depending on variety, with small black seeds clustered in the center. Hawaiian papayas are easier to harvest because the plants seldom grow taller than 8 feet. Mexican papayas are much larger the the Hawaiian types and may weigh up to 10 pounds and be more than 15 inches long. The flesh may be yellow, orange or pink. The flavor is less intense than that the Hawaiian papaya but still is delicious and extremely enjoyable. They are slightly easier to grow than Hawaiian papayas. A properly ripened papaya is juicy, sweetish and somewhat like a cantaloupe in flavor, although musky in some types. 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.
Contrary to what some people imagine, the Carica papaya is a single species of fruit that goes by two different names. There are just different varieties of the fruit that comes in different shapes and sizes as well as different colours and tastes just like there are different varieties of mandarins. In tropical countries, the flesh of the Papaya is often pink or red. The Reds, as they are sometimes called, have a mild sweet taste without that very distinctive, and to some palates, objectionable Papaya taste The yellow-fleshed Papaya, on the other hand, do better in sub-tropical regions, and they do have a stronger, and sometimes slightly bitter taste.
The taste of Papaya is enhanced enormously by the addition of some lime juice. The taste of a strong yellow Papaya can be made acceptable to almost any palate if the fruit is cut into cubes and simmered in lemon juice and honey for several minutes. If not otherwise told, most dinner guests would guess that they were eating delicious stewed peaches.
In some countries, mature green Papaws are cooked as a vegetable or grated and made into a delicious green Papaya (Thai) salad that is marinated in lemon juice and flavoured with oyster sauce, ginger, garlic chill and peanuts.
When it comes to an all round health fruit, Papaya is a strong contender to head the list.
The fruit contains a fair source of calcium and iron, a good source of vitamins A, B, and G, and an excellent source of vitamin C – nearly double the amount of an orange. Its most unique feature is that it contains a digestive agent called papain. This breaks down the amino acids (proteins). Papain is also used as tenderizer in the food industry. Whether the fruit is eaten by infants or the old and very frail, it facilitates good digestion and helps to alleviate reflux and some other digestive disorders. There is much more papain in the green fruit.
Papaya with cereal makes the ideal breakfast. It will set the stomach in a good mood for the day. Or blend up some Papaya, preferably with the skin (no seeds), orange juice and honey to get that papain working for you.
The seeds are spicy like black pepper. Not many should be eaten by pregnant women, however, because in some countries the seeds or green Papaya are eaten to induce an abortion.
In folk medicine, the papain found in the sap of the green Papaya is used to treat ulcers and skin infections. It can remove warts and related skin tags. There are reported cases where even modern hospitals have used strips of Papaya to treat post-operative infections when other means have failed. A Papaya extract (chemopapain) is sometimes injected into spinal discs and pinched nerves by the orthopaedic profession.
Because the Papaya latex (papain) breaks down amino acids, it is effective in removing blood stains and fat stains.