Papaya 101 – The Basics

If you live in the tropics, you’ve probably grown up eating papaya, so it’s nothing new to you. I’m sure you could teach us a lot about this interesting fruit! However if you grew up elsewhere, papaya is one of those fruits that you may have never tried. You may not know what to do with it…how to prepare it or how to include it in meals with other foods. Hopefully, the article below will help you out. It’s a comprehensive article all about papaya, from what it is, to how to buy, store, and use it, to suggested recipe links. If you’re curious about papaya, you found the right place to find answers to your questions!


Papaya 101 – The Basics

About Papayas
Papayas are oblong to pear-shaped fruits that are usually about 7 inches long. However, they can be as long as 20 inches. The flesh is orange in color, with yellow to pink hues. Inside are many black, round seeds with a gelatinous coating. The pea-sized seeds are edible with a peppery, bitter flavor. The flavor of papaya flesh is sweet with slight musk undertones. The consistency is soft and butter-like. Papaya trees produce fruit year-round, although they have a peak season in early summer and fall.

Papayas are native to Central America, where they were long revered by Latin American Indians. Explorers carried papayas to other parts of the world, including India, the Philippines, and Africa. They made their way around the world from there. Papayas have been cultivated in Hawaii since the 1920s where they are a major producer of the fruit, along with Mexico, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Nigeria. The papaya tree only grows in warm climates.

Christopher Columbus referred to the papaya as “the fruit of the angels.” In Australia, papayas are referred to as papaws or pawpaws. In Brazil, they are called Mamaos. They can also be referred to as tree melons.

Papayas contain the enzyme papain, which helps to digest protein. The enzyme is especially concentrated in unripe papayas. This enzyme is often extracted from papayas and included in digestive enzyme supplements and some chewing gums. It is also added to commercial meat tenderizers.

Nutrition and Health Benefits of Papayas
Papaya is an excellent source of Vitamin C, with one medium papaya providing 224% of our daily needs. Papaya is also a good source of Vitamin A (from beta-carotene), folate, fiber, magnesium, potassium, copper, and Vitamin K. One medium papaya has about 119 calories, or 43 calories in a 100 gram (3.5 ounce) serving.

Possible health benefits of papaya include reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and cancer. It aids in digestion, improves blood glucose control in diabetics, and lowers blood pressure. Beta-carotene, which is plentiful in papayas, has been found to be protective against prostate cancer in men, and also asthma in those who eat a lot of foods containing this antioxidant. Papayas have even been found to aid in wound healing.

Protection from Macular Degeneration. Papayas contain the antioxidant zeaxanthin which is known to filter blue rays from sunlight. By doing this it is believed to help protect our eyes from macular degeneration. Therefore, eating papayas may help to protect your eyes from sun-related damage.

Papaya and Latex-Fruit Syndrome. If you react to rubber, you may also react to papaya, especially unripe papayas. Papayas have proteins that are similar to those found in natural rubber. Some individuals who react to rubber will also react to the proteins in papayas. If you are in this group of people, papayas may not be right for you. Proceed with caution!

How to Select a Fresh Papaya
Papayas with a reddish-orange skin and are slightly soft to the touch are ready to eat right away. So, if you want a papaya for immediate use, that’s the one to opt for. Ones with yellow patches on the skin will take a few days to ripen when left at room temperature. Papayas that are totally green and hard are not ripe and should be avoided, unless you need an unripe one for a specific recipe. The unripe papayas will not develop their characteristic sweet flavor.

Avoid papayas that are bruised and overly soft. A few dark spots on the surface will not affect the flavor of the papaya.

How to Store Papayas
Ripe papayas should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a few days. If you want to speed up the ripening process, place a yellowish papaya in a paper bag with a ripe banana. Once the papaya ripens up it should be used right away or placed in the refrigerator and used within a few days.

Dried vs Fresh Papaya
Fresh Papaya. Thanks to modern transportation methods, fresh papaya is available in many grocery stores year-round. Both ripe and green (unripe) varieties are available and offer versatility so the fruit can be enjoyed raw in sweet dishes or cooked in savory foods.

Dried Papaya. Dried papaya is a convenient and delicious way to enjoy this tropical fruit and have it available whenever you need it. It’s important to read labels when purchasing dried papaya. A lot of manufacturers add sweeteners, preservatives, and coloring agents during the drying process. However, dried papaya without added sweeteners or chemicals is available from some resources. It may be marketed as organic or natural dried papaya. If you’re avoiding such additives, it’s critical to read labels when you’re shopping to be sure you are getting what you expect.

Dried papaya can be enjoyed on its own or added to quick breads, trail mix, granola, hot porridge (like oatmeal), cookie dough, and sprinkled on ice cream. Use it in any way you would use a dried fruit.

How to Prepare a Papaya
Papayas are easy to use and basically are prepared like a melon. Wash the fruit, then slice it in half. Scoop out the seeds, remove the peel and dice it up, or scoop out the flesh with a spoon or melon baller.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Papayas
Papayas can be eaten raw or used in a number of savory recipes. Experiment with papayas if you’re not familiar with them and surely you’ll find your favorite way to enjoy them. Here are some suggestions…

* Simply scoop out the pulp of a papaya and enjoy it as it is. For a little zing, you could drizzle a little lemon or lime juice on top.

* When adding papaya to a fruit salad, add the papaya just before serving. The enzymes in the papaya can cause other fruit to become soft.

* Although they can be a little bitter, the papaya seeds are edible with a peppery flavor. They can be dried, and chewed whole or blended into a dressing for a pepper flavor.

* Combine diced papaya, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and ginger for a salsa that goes well with seafood.

* Slice a papaya lengthwise, remove the seeds, fill the cavity with a fruit salad, then top with a couple mint leaves for a beautiful presentation.

* Blend papaya, strawberries, banana and yogurt for a delicious smoothie.

* Unripe papayas are often used as a vegetable and added to curries, salads and stews, especially in Southeast Asian dishes.

* Make a tropical fruit salad with fresh papaya, mango and pineapple.

* Add dried papaya to a rice pilaf.

* Add papaya chunks to chicken, tuna, or shrimp salad.

* In many recipes, papaya may be used in place of mango.

* Bake a ripe papaya with a sprinkle of brown sugar and rum for an exceptional flavor treat.

* Add grated or thinly sliced unripe papaya to coleslaw.

* The flavor of ripe papaya is best when it’s cold, so refrigerate it first if you will be enjoying it raw.

* Make a simple breakfast addition or dessert by cutting a papaya in half (lengthwise), and scooping out the seeds. Fill the cavity with yogurt, then top with a few blueberries.

* Enjoy a tropical smoothie by blending some coconut milk with diced papaya and a few ice cubes.

* Make a papaya chia pudding by combining chopped papaya with 1 cup of almond milk (or milk of choice), 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla. Pour the mixture into a small mason jar, cover and place it in the refrigerator to chill and thicken.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Papayas
Cayenne, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, curry, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mint, nutmeg, rosemary, salt, vanilla

Foods That Go Well with Papayas
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Beans (esp. black), chicken, fish, legumes (in general), nuts (esp. almonds, cashews, macadamia, peanuts), pork, shrimp, tofu

Vegetables: Arugula, bell peppers, carrots, chili peppers, cucumbers, daikon radish, greens (salad), jalapeno peppers, jicama, lettuce, mung bean sprouts, onions (esp. red), scallions, shallots, spinach, tomatoes

Fruits: Avocados, bananas, berries (esp. raspberries, strawberries), citrus (esp. grapefruit, lemon, lime), coconut, kiwi, mango, melon (esp. cantaloupe, honeydew), passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, tamarind

Grains and Grain Products: Rice, tortillas (corn)

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese, yogurt

Other: Agave nectar, honey, lavender, oil (olive), soy sauce, sugar (brown), tamari (with green papayas), vinegar (esp. rice wine, tarragon)

Papayas have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Caribbean cuisines, chutneys, curries, ice creams, jams, marinades, salad dressings, salads, salsas, smoothies, sorbets, Thai cuisine (green papayas)

Suggested Flavor Combos Using Ripe Papayas
Add ripe papayas to any of the following combinations…

Bananas + honey
Bananas + mangos + vanilla + yogurt
Bananas + oranges
Bell peppers + cilantro + lime + onions
Cayenne + cilantro + lime
Cayenne + greens + jicama + lemon + lime
Chiles + mango + mint + pineapple
Coconut + rice
Ginger + lime
Honey + mint + yogurt
Jicama + orange + red onions
Kiwi + mango + pineapple
Lime + mango + mint + orange
Strawberries + yogurt

Suggested Flavor Combos Using Green (Unripe) Papayas
Add green (unripe) papayas to any of the following combinations…

Chili pepper + garlic + lime + peanuts
Green beans + lime + peanuts + tomatoes
Lime + peanuts + Thai basil

Recipe Links

Papaya Bars

Papaya Recipes

Chicken and Papaya Stir-Fry

Papaya and Feta Salad

Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Papaya and Pineapple

Tropical Melon Smoothie

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

Spiced Papaya Pie with Graham Cracker Crust


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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