The papaya was called the “fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus due to its deliciously sweet with musky undertones and soft, butter-like consistency. Once considered quite exotic, they can now be found in markets throughout the year. Papaya can be found all year long with the peak season being early summer and fall.
Native to southern Mexico and Central America, 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.
Papayas may be an overlooked fruit selection, but perhaps you should give it a chance. This tropical fruit is ranked as one of the most nutritious fruits because of its high content of so many vitamins and minerals. Once you learn more about what fresh papaya and papaya juice have to offer, it may become one of your new favorites.
Papayas offer not only the luscious taste and colors of the tropics, but they are rich sources of vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) and vitamin C. They are also a very good source of folate. In addition, papayas are a good source of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, copper, and vitamin K.
There are two types of papayas: Hawaiian and Mexican. Solo, a Hawaiian papaya,is the most common variety available in the United States; pear-shaped and weighing about a pound it comes in two types, the Kapoho and Sunrise. Both have a medium green skin when picked and mature to yellow or yellow-orange when ripe. Inside, the flesh of the Kapoho is a golden yellow, whereas the Sunrise is a pinkish orange.
Mexican papayas are much larger than the Hawaiian types. This papaya is long and cylindrical with a flesh similar to the Sunrise but a bit deeper in color. Although the flavor is less intense than the Hawaiian varieties, they are still delicious and enjoyable.
The papaya is a melon-like fruit with a thin skin. 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. A properly ripened papaya is juicy, sweet, and somewhat like a cantaloupe in flavor, although musky in some types.
When shopping for a ripe papaya, look for skin that is turning from green to yellow with a yellow ring around the stem or completely yellow in color. It should give slightly to pressure, but not be soft at the stem-end. Avoid papayas that are bruised, shriveled, or have soft areas. Uncut papayas have no smell or a slightly sweet smell. If it’s too soft, mushy, or has an overwhelmingly sweet smell it has signs that the papaya is overripe. Cut papayas should smell sweet, not fermented.
Slightly green papayas will ripen within 1 to 3 days at room temperature. If you want to speed this process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or an apple. As the papaya ripens, it will turn from green to yellow. Papayas that are totally green or overly hard should not be purchased, unless you are planning on cooking them, or unless you want to use green papayas in a cold dish like an Asian salad, as their flesh will not develop its characteristic sweet juicy flavor.
Papayas will keep for up to a week, but it’s best to use them within a day or two. Store leftover prepared fruit in closed containers in the refrigerator. Freeze it to be enjoyed all year round.Papayas can be prepared like melons and used many different ways. The most popular way to eat a papaya is to wash the fruit, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and eat the flesh with a spoon. For a little extra zest, squeeze a little lime juice over the papaya to bring out the tropical flavor of the fruit.
Cut papayas, like melons, won’t darken when exposed to air. However, unlike melons, the seeds of papayas are worth saving. Rinse them and add them to dishes as a garnish. They can be chewed whole or blended into a creamy salad dressing. The seeds are nutty and slightly peppery. Papayas can also be peeled if you plan to cube or slice the papaya fruit. Use a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler to peel the papaya, then cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut as desired. You can also use a melon baller to scoop out the fruit of a halved papaya. Papayas go naturally with other tropical fruit such as mangos, bananas, pineapples, and coconuts. 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. Papayas have an enzyme that prevents gelatin from setting, so do not include papayas in gelatin-based salads or desserts. Papaya is great in cereals, yogurt, salsa, green salads, and cottage cheese. Papaya tastes great when combined with pork meats, especially ham, and with poultry. Grilling fish or other seafood on skewers with papaya cubes is a great combination because they both cook quickly. Overripe papayas can be puréed for fruit soup, sauces, or smoothies with honey and juices and perhaps some yogurt.
Papaya is a fruit worth considering putting on your grocery list. It is great because along with savoring the taste you are also ingesting all the benefits associated with eating the fruit, which will result in good health benefits for you.