Papaya


Originally from southern Mexico (particularly Chiapas and Veracruz), Central America, and northern South America, the papaya is now cultivated in most tropical countries. In cultivation, it grows rapidly, fruiting within 3 years. It is, however, highly frost sensitive, limiting papaya production to tropical lands.

Carica papaya plants, and their fruits, are generally known as papayas. The papaya is also commonly called pawpaw or papaw. The papaya is also sometimes called mugua, a name used in traditional Chinese medicine for Chaenomeles speciosa (flowering quince). In Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, the papaya is usually called "lechosa", a name associated with the plant's milky sap. In Cuba, the papaya is called "fruta bomba". 

This revered tropical fruit was reputably called "the fruit of the angels" by Christopher Columbus. In the 20th 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. 

Once considered quite exotic, 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 are spherical or pear-shaped fruits that can be as long as 20 inches. Their flesh is a rich orange color with either yellow or pink hues. Inside the inner cavity of the fruit are black, round seeds encased in a gelatinous-like substance. Papaya's seeds are edible, although their peppery flavor is somewhat bitter. The fruit, as well as the other parts of the papaya tree, contain papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins.

Papayas can be used as a food, a cooking aid, and in traditional medicine. The stem and bark may be used in rope production.

Health Benefits

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. Further health benefits include:
  • Protection Against Heart Disease
  • Promotes Digestive Health
  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects
  • Immune Support
  • Protection against Muscular Degeneration
  • Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Promote Lung Health 

 

Papayas and Latex Allergy

Like avocados and bananas, papayas contain substances called chitinases that are associated with the latex-fruit allergy syndrome. There is strong evidence of the cross-reaction between latex and these foods. If you have a latex allergy, you may very likely be allergic to these foods as well. Processing the fruit with ethylene gas increases these enzymes; organic produce not treated with gas will have fewer allergy-causing compounds. In addition, cooking the food may deactivate the enzymes.

How to Select

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. Those that have patches of yellow color will take a few more days to ripen. 

Green, hard papayas are unripe and will never ripen properly; their flesh will not develop its characteristic sweet juicy flavor.

While a few black spots on the surface will not affect the papaya's taste, avoid those that are bruised or overly soft. 

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 (and most delightful) ways to eat papaya is to eat it just 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, you can squeeze lemon or lime juice on top.

While most people discard the big black seeds, they are actually edible and have a delightful peppery flavor. They can be chewed whole or blended into a creamy salad dressing, giving it a peppery flavor.

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 soup treat.

Papaya Storage 

Ripe papayas should be refrigerated to slow down the ripening process. Papayas will ripen within a few days at room temperature, and even faster if you put them in a paper bag. Once ripe, this fruit will quickly turn to mush if not properly stored.

Place ripe, whole fruit in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and it should last about a week.

To freeze, peel the papaya, slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut into pieces and pack into rigid containers or heavy duty plastic freezer bags.


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