Native to Mexico and Central America, papaya is an elongated tropical fruit that’s available year-round. Papaya fruit has little black seeds that are edible and have long been useful as a traditional Chinese remedy for liver health. This fruit is cultivated for its flesh, which tastes less sweet than melon and has a softer texture. Papaya also contains an enzyme called papain, which aids in digestion. In high doses, raw papaya may cause stomach irritation from the high papain concentration, so go slowly when introducing papaya to your diet.
It’s best to choose papaya with a bright yellow skin, which indicates a fully ripe fruit. However, if the surface is green, the papaya is still edible. Ripe papaya yields slightly when gently pressed and feels heavy for its size. The skin is smooth and unblemished, and if there is no bruising or visible damage, a few black or moldy spots are acceptable.
Papaya is highly perishable, and if left on a counter at room temperature you need to eat the fruit within a few days. If papaya is fully ripe when brought home, you can slow down the ripening process by refrigerating the fruit in a paper bag. Be sure to leave the skin on the fruit while it attains full ripeness.
Cut the fruit in half lengthwise and use a teaspoon to remove the seeds, which you may discard or save for snacking. Use a small, sharp knife to cut the skin of each half away from the flesh and discard the skin. While technically there’s no harm in eating the peel, it’s best to avoid, just as you do with oranges and bananas.
After peeling, slicing and removing the seeds, cut the papaya into pieces. Place the pieces in sturdy freezer containers or bags. Cover the fruit with a solution of sugar water that’s four cups of water to 2 cups of sugar. For best quality, use it within a year, but if it’s frozen at 0-degree Fahrenheit, it can last indefinitely. Frozen fruit is a terrific addition to a smoothie or used as an ice cube in chilled drinks.
You can grow papaya at home from seeds. Wash the seeds, remove the gelatinous coating and keep them wet, pressed in a cotton cloth for two-to-three days. Seeds take two-to-three weeks to germinate at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you observe a white dot, the seeds are ready to plant. The plants grow well in a 20-to 30-gallon container when placed in the sunniest spot in the home, and near a heating vent in cooler weather.
The papaya is ready to harvest when the fruit’s skin is yellow-green or completely yellow. Fully green papayas must be cooked rather than eaten raw. The effects of eating latex-laden unripe papaya have not been clearly identified, so it’s best to avoid. To harvest the fruit from the tree, wear heavy plastic gloves, lightly twist the fruit and use a short knife to cut from the tree, leaving a small stalk.
Papain, the protein-digesting enzyme found in papaya, is used to tenderize meat, as a food supplement to aid digestion and in the treatment of parasitic worms. High in fiber and water, papain also promotes regularity to reduce constipation. Papain also contains two antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – that help prevent stress and avoid chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and arthritis.
You can substitute winter squash with green papaya but be sure to drain off the white sap before using to avoid the sharp, acidic taste. Papaya seeds have a sharp flavor reminiscent of black pepper and wasabi, making them a great seasoning alternative. Puree overripe fruit and top ice cream spread the sauce on pancakes or stir into your favorite yogurt. Pureed papaya makes an excellent all-natural peeling facial mask, ideal for cleansing impurities from your skin.
Serve your favorite chicken, fruit or seafood salad in a papaya half. Season up green papaya with cinnamon, honey, and butter, then bake for a delicious side dish or dessert. Herbs like chives, cilantro, basil, and mint go nicely with papaya, and complementary fruits include mango, passion fruit, kiwi and most berries. The combinations are not only attractive, but the various fruits also augment health benefits.
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