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What the Heck Is a Papaya?

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What the Heck Is a Papaya?

The papaya, also known as the papaw or pawpaw, is a large pear-shaped fruit native to Central and South America. Its flesh is usually orange, but can also be yellow or pink, and is sweet, soft, and silky. The small black seeds at its center are edible, and taste spicy. They can be ground up and used like pepper.

The are actually two main types of papayas, Mexican and Hawaiian. The Hawaiian variety is smaller — about one pound — while the Mexican variety is larger — up to 10 pounds. Papaya trees produce year-round, so the fruit is always in season. They are picked green, before they are ripe, and usually sold when they are half-green/half-yellow. They are ripe when they are mostly yellow, or begin to show an amber color.

Papayas are nutritionally rich in vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin E, folate, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and carotenes, which are good for eyesight.

Today, papayas grow in tropical regions throughout the world, and are popular in Africa and Southeast Asia, where they are often added to stews and salads, often when they are still green.

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In addition to eating them, people have also long used papays medicinally, to aid digestion, as a contraceptive aid, and for various salve and ointments for skin injuries and diseases. When Christopher Columbus encountered papayas during one of his voyages to the Western Hemisphere, he dubbed them the “fruit of the angels.”

Once you’ve tasted a papaya, you may think it’s pretty divine, too. Eat it raw, or try it one one of these recipes:

Mango Papaya Salsa
1/2 small mango, peeled and cubed
1/2 small papaya, peeled, seeded and cubed
1/2 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 orange bell pepper, diced
1 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste

Stir together the mango, papaya, onion, garlic, jalapeno pepper, red bell pepper, orange bell pepper, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl.

Mexi-Cali Papaya Quesadillas
6 8″ flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups diced, peeled papaya
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons diced red onion
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup roasted red peppers
1 teaspoon jalapenos, minced and seeded
Cooking spray

Combine the papaya, cilantro, onion, and lime juice in a bowl and stir well. Cover, chill and set aside. Combine the goat cheese, chopped bell peppers, cream cheese, and jalapenos in a bowl, and stir well. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture over each tortilla, and fold in half. Cook quesadilla in a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray over medium heat, approximately 3 minutes per side. Cut each quesadilla into thirds and serve with papaya mixture.

Papaya Salad
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 fresh green chili peppers
6 green beans, cut into 1″ pieces
1 large unripe papaya, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 tomato, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

In a blender or food processor, coarsely chop the garlic, chili peppers, and green beans. Mix in the papaya, and process into small chunks. Mix in the tomato, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Process the mixture until soft and slightly chunky. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in the peanuts. Cover, and refrigerate until serving.

Stuffed Papaya Treat
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
2 medium papayas, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
2 tablespoons honey

In a bowl, mix the yogurt, walnuts, and raisins. Fold in the strawberries. Spoon the mixture into the centers of the papaya halves. Drizzle with honey to serve.

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1 Ali { 02.07.13 at 9:12 am }

Well said, Katie! I will not buy papayas since they are one of the few genetically engineered crops and are destroying not only our health but our farmers lively hood. I will not support Monsanto and those other big corporations as it is all about money. Vote with your dollars.

2 victor camacho { 02.20.11 at 8:54 pm }

So right, the native American PawPaw is completely different to the fruit grown in other parts. The hybrid varieties cultivated now are much larger, have superiour flavour and taste, I would like to see research done though to preserve the local (Trinidad & Tobago) varieties by making them more disease resistant.

3 Katie McAllister { 02.16.11 at 11:43 am }

Forgot to mention, I opened a papaya a few months ago that contained NO SEEDS. Then I started to research…

4 Katie McAllister { 02.16.11 at 11:42 am }

Papayas are a wonderful fruit, but it surprises me that you are endorsing them like this instead of talking about the controversy that is currently surrounding papaya crops in both Mexico and Hawaii. Papayas are one of the approved GMO crops (along with zucchini) that are being introduced big time into the food supply. This is destroying family farms and organic farms whose crops get contaminated with GMO seeds, and they lose their entire harvest! To grow GMO papayas, the seeds must be bought regularly (look up: terminator gene) and bought from Monsanto. I would recommend doing some research into this! This is very very dangerous technology that is linked strongly in greed and money with big corporations that are causing damage around the world (watch: Silent Forest). The biggest GMO crops being corn, cotton, soy, and wheat. Be careful what you buy/consume! This technology will have unpredictable results on our population and food supply, and we must speak out against it.

5 Jaime McLeod { 02.16.11 at 10:04 am }

Hi Mary,
Thanks for your comment. You are correct. There is another fruit called pawpaw that is native to North America and grows on an evergreen tree. However, that doesn’t change the fact that “pawpaw” is also a longstanding nickname for papaya. Confusing, yes, but true.

6 Mary Hayes { 02.16.11 at 9:51 am }

Pawpaw really?? I think you are mistaken, actually I know you are mistaken. The pawpaw is a North American native with fruit that taste like a mixture of banana and custard.

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