Papayas: Buying, Storing and Using

Ingredients | Papaya Vendor

The papaya, also known as mamão, pawpaw or tree melon, is a tropical fruit with a brilliant color, a softly sweet flavor similar to peaches and a musky scent. It is also an antioxidant powerhouse that should part of any family's selection of fruit.

Papaya Varieties

Carica papaya originated in the tropics around the Caribbean and has long been cultivated in Central America. There are two main varieties of papaya: Mexican and Hawaiian. The large Mexican variety is roughly football-shaped, has pink flesh that is lightly sweet and can weigh up to several pounds. The smaller Hawaiian variety is pear-shaped, sweeter and has orange to pink-colored flesh.

Papayas are sold either green and unripe or fully ripe. Green papayas have firm flesh that is not sweet. It is used in soups and stews and in salads. Ripe papayas have soft, sweet flesh and are usually eaten raw.

Papaya Seasonality

Papaya's peak season is mid-summer to mid-fall, but they are generally available year-round. The fruit is harvested while green and upripe, just like bananas. This helps them hold up to the rigors of shipping.

Buying, Storing and Preparing Papayas

Green papaya should be even-colored and firm, with no soft spots or mold. Buy ripe papaya that has skin with a pleasant orange-yellow hue and perhaps a few green spots. The flesh should give slightly when pressed. Avoid papayas with soft blemishes our mold, although these areas are easy to cut out if necessary.

A papaya will ripen further on the countertop when you get it home. Try to eat a ripe papaya within 1 to 2 days, as it will quickly become overripe.

To use papaya, peel the skin using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Cut the papaya in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and any whitish flesh. Cut into chunks and eat or use in a recipe.

Papaya's Uses around the World

From its origin in the Americas, the popularity of papaya has spread to tropical areas around the globe. In Thailand, green papaya is shredded for som tam, or green papaya salad. Filipinos use it in tinolang manok soup. Diners in the Caribbean enjoy papaya stuffed with ground beef and baked, or puree it in batidos, fruity shakes.

Save papaya seeds, dry them out in a low oven and use them as a substitute for peppercorns.Papaya leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

Papaya is believed to have a variety of medicinal benefits. The ripe fruit contains lots of vitamin C, beta-carotene and lycopene. The fruit is used to aid digestion and quiet upset stomachs.

The flesh and seeds of papaya contain papain, an enzyme that works as a meat tenderizer. Puree the ripe flesh of papaya and use it as an effective meat tenderizer. Keep in mind that this tenderizing property will keep any gelatines made with papaya from setting. The papaya must be cooked first to inactivate the enzyme.

Women who are expecting or attempting to become pregnant should probably avoid green, upripe papaya as it may induce miscarriages.

Papaya Recipes

Agua Fresca

Beverages | Agua Fresca Image

(Mexican fresh fruit beverage)

Aguas frescas are fresh fruit drinks that are very popular all over Mexico. These refreshing beverages are typically served from large barrel-shaped glass containers. Some of the more traditional varieties are watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberry. Read more »

Papaya Pie

Ingredients | Papayas

(Caribbean papaya-filled pie)

This tasty tropical treat uses one of the more popular fruits in the Caribbean and is even funner to eat than it is to say. The phrase "easy as pie" applies well to papaya pie; it comes together in minutes. Read more »

Pawpaw Chutney

Ingredients | Papaya Chunks

(Caribbean papaya preserves)

Papaya chutney is a luscious tropical jam that makes good use of a fruit grown all over the Caribbean. Spread it on slices of bread or serve it alongside grilled or roasted chicken or pork. A version without the allspice is made in Senegal where it is called confiture de papaye. Read more »

Som Tam

Salads | Som Tam

(Thai green papaya salad)

Green papaya salad is the most popular salad in Thailand and is commonly sold in street stalls, especially in the North of the country. This refreshingly tart and healthy salad is traditionally made in a mortar (som tam means "sour pounded"), but this recipe uses a more Western-kitchen-friendly method. Read more »

Tinolang Manok

Soups | Tinolang Manok Image

(Filipino ginger chicken soup with papaya)

Also known as tinola, tinolang manok chicken soup is light and refreshing. A simple broth with chicken, spinach and green papaya, it is a favorite home-style dish in the Philippines. Read more »