What is papaya?

Papaya is one of the last remaining tropical fruits that retain a little mystery and mystique. It is an amazing fruit, In this article, we’re going to go through what a papaya is, how you can use it in your kitchen, and where you can pick one up.

What is papaya?

What is papaya?

Papaya is a tropical fruit, like pineapple or banana. It has bright orange flesh, which is sweet, and becomes sweeter as it ripens. The seeds of the papaya have a slightly peppery flavor.

The papaya grows on trees, and these trees are grown in a number of locations all around the world. Most notably, the trees are cultivated in Mexico and South America. It is also a common crop in Hawaii and has been for a long time.

The fruit must be harvested before it becomes ripe. Therefore, it is picked when the skin is green or yellow-green color, and it will turn fully yellow as it ripens. The flesh inside of the fruit is usually orange, but there are some varieties that are pink or red. Interestingly, while the seeds are edible, the skin is not.

The fruit can grow to be very large, up to twenty pounds! The average papaya, however, is roughly six inches long, pear-shaped, and weighs roughly two pounds. It is typically sold under the name papaya, though it is also known as pawpaw, mamao, and tree melon.

When bought fully ripe (with yellow skin) it can be eaten raw, though must be cut open first. Taking a bite of the skin is not good for you, but the sweet flesh within is a delicious snack. Some recipes actually call for a green papaya, which is the unripe form of the fruit. This is usually treated more like a vegetable, and the seeds are white at this point of ripeness. This form of the fruit must be cooked before eating. Typically, this ingredient is found in Asian cuisines more than in Western recipes.

3 papayas, one ripe and 2 green ones

How can you use papaya in your kitchen?

Papaya is an incredibly versatile ingredient and can be used in a wide variety of different dishes.

Ripe papaya can be eaten raw, and it often is as a snack or light breakfast. It can also be baked, sauteed, stir-fried, or pureed, depending on the recipe. This versatility means it lends itself to a number of different cuisines. Personally, I’d like to try it as part of a salsa! I made a recipe a while ago which involved searing mango before blending it with other, more typical, salsa ingredients to make a sweet, spicy sauce. Papaya sounds like it would be delicious in that setting!

The other parts of the fruit also have interesting uses. Because of the relative strength of the skin, you can hollow out papaya, wash it, and then have a small, biodegradable, single-use bowl. This could be particularly good for parties where you’re serving up small portions of finger food.

The seeds are also versatile. Because of their slightly peppery flavor, they can be removed, washed, dried, and then used like peppercorns. They’ll offer a slightly different flavor to true black pepper, of course, but it may be an interesting spice to have in your kitchen!

Preparing fresh papaya is particularly easy, and requires little to no effort if you have the right tools. Because it’s safe to eat without cooking, all you need to do is slice the papaya, and mind out for the skin. An easy method for eating papaya could be to slice it in half lengthways, before removing the seeds. Then, take a melon baller or a spoon, scoop the flesh directly from the body of the fruit, and eat it.

To be a little fancier in your papaya-eating habits, you could skin your papaya, firstly, before slicing it lengthways and removing the seeds. Then, slice into wedges, and eat. This could be particularly good if you had a sauce or spice that you wanted to dip your papaya into. If you’re serving fresh papaya in either of these ways, drizzling a little lime juice over the top can enhance the flavor dramatically, give it a go! Perhaps even try this trick with other juices or spices, such as lime or lemon juice.

Where can you pick up papaya?

Because papaya is grown mostly in Hawaii, where the climate remains relatively steady year-round, papaya can be grown, harvested, and bought for most of the year. The price may fluctuate, however, depending on the season. It may seem a little expansive compared to other fruits, but consider the journey it has taken to get to your kitchen.

The peak seasons for Hawaiian papayas on US markets are April through June, and October through December. A number of markets may carry chopped papaya in juice year-round in the produce department. Papaya nectar is also available, canned, and bottled, though its placement in a market can vary.

Here in Florida, I have lots of papaya trees growing in my garden, even though we live further north in North Central Florida, papaya fruit is one of the few tropical fruits that are grown here. 

How Do You Pick A Good Papaya?

When buying papaya, make sure to select fruit that is mostly yellow with a little bit of green on the surface. That way, you can let it come to full ripeness at home. When ripe, the fruit should be firm, but yielding to gentle pressure. It should also feel surprisingly heavy for its size and have smooth skin. 

Ripe papaya should have a sweet aroma, though avoid buying overripe fruit. That fruit will be overly soft and is only worth buying if you intend to puree it and use it immediately.

Papaya is an incredibly popular fruit the world over, and you’re sure to find it if you head down to your local market. There are plenty of recipes online, so give one or two of them a go!

Other Fruits To Learn About

  1. Tuna Fruit
  2. Naseberry Sapodilla
  3. 10 Amazing Benefits Of Noni
  4. Amazing Benefits Of Lemon
  5. Key Lime
  6. Loquat Fruit
  7. Mangosteen Fruit

Close up image of papaya

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Michelle Blackwood, RN

Hi, I’m Michelle, I’m the voice, content creator and photographer behind Healthier Steps. I share vegan and gluten-free recipes because of past health issues. My goal is to help you make healthier choices and show you how healthy eating is easy and delicious.

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