Once an exotic import, papayas today are found in most supermarkets, which is fortunate for the consumer. This fruit is sweet and refreshing—and even to this day invokes the romance and lure of the tropics.
The papaya is a melon-like fruit with yellow-orange flesh enclosed in skin that ranges in color from green to orange to rose. At the papaya’s center is an oblong cavity containing dozens of small shiny black seeds. The papaya is sometimes referred to as a papaw, but that is a misnomer. The papaw is a separate fruit that belongs to an unrelated botanical family and has a different taste and texture.
Exactly where the papaya originated is unknown. It is probably native to the Americas, but it has been introduced into other continents and grows profusely throughout the world’s tropical regions. The papaya plant tends to grow between 6 and 10 feet, but can grow as tall as 20 feet. The fruit grows in groups at the top of the tree and can weigh from half a pound to 20 pounds each. The fruit can be round, pear-shaped, or elongated like a banana, depending upon the particular strain.
Papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C. This fruit offers substantial amounts of the mineral potassium—about 265 milligrams in one cup—more than most fruits other than bananas. Papayas also provide fiber, folate, vitamin E, and the carotenoids beta cryptoxanthin and beta carotene.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Papaya in the National Nutrient Database.
Papaya Recipe Ideas and Cooking Tips
Papayas are the fourth most popular tropical fruit in the world, and for good reason. They’re sweet when ripe. They can be used as a vegetable when green. And they can turn most hum-drum salads into refreshing meals.How to choose a ripe papayaPapayas in the market are usually just partially ripe.
Types of papaya
The papayas that most frequently appear on the market are the Solo varieties grown in Hawaii. Papayas from Mexico—another major producer and exporter—are not as common, though you can find them in some supermarkets and most Latin markets.
Babáco: This papaya hybrid is a native of Ecuador. It is 8 to 12 inches long and 4 inches in diameter. It is pentagonal in cross-section. The skin is entirely edible, and turns from green to yellow as it ripens. This fragrant fruit is extremely juicy and has hints of pineapple. Choose the yellowest fruits that are still firm, as these will be the sweetest. Add babácos to fruit salads and desserts only at the last minute, because they have more papain than regular papayas and will quickly turn other ingredients mushy.
Mexican: These are large papayas that reach lengths of 2 feet and weight 10 pounds or more. They are not as sweet as the more common Solo papayas. Mexican red papayas have mellow-flavored, rose-colored flesh. Mexican yellow papayas can grow up to 10 pounds.
Solo: These papayas are pear-shaped, about 6 inches long, and weigh from 1 to 2 pounds each. They have green-yellow skin and their flesh can be bright golden or pinkish. Sunrise Solo, developed at the University of Hawaii, has a unique reddish-pink color and a flavor reminiscent of strawberries. Strawberry Sunrise is another Solo from Hawaii. It has reddish-orange to pink flesh and is very sweet and flavorful.
Published April 22, 2016