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Papaya

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

The romance and lure of the tropics is part of the papaya's appeal, even though this fruit is no longer as exotic as it once was. Today, papayas are relatively easy to buy. Sweet and refreshing, they also supply good amounts of vitamin C and folate (folic acid), and some potassium. Papayas also contain an enzyme called papain, which aids in digestion.

The cultivated papaya has yellow-orange or rose-colored flesh enclosed in skin that ranges in color from green to orange to rose. The flavor of the sweet, juicy flesh is sometimes described as a cross between a peach and a Crenshaw melon. At the fruit's center is a large cavity containing dozens of small, glistening seeds, which are edible and can be used as a garnish.

Varieties

Papayas, which grow in clusters near the tops of the tree, can weigh from half a pound to 20 pounds. They can be round, pear-shaped, or elongated like a banana. The papayas that most frequently appear on the market are the Solo varieties (there are several) grown in Hawaii. These fruits are pear-shaped, about 6" long, and weigh roughly a pound each; the name "Solo" was meant to express the concept that each fruit is a single serving. They have green-yellow skin and their flesh can be bright golden or rose-colored.

Mexican varieties are not as widely available but you may be able to find them in Latin-American markets. They are much larger than the Solo types--reaching lengths of two feet and weighing 10 pounds or more--and are not as sweet.

Availability

Papayas are probably native to the Americas, but they have been introduced elsewhere and grow profusely throughout the world's tropical regions. Most domestic papayas come from Hawaii, where they have been extensively cultivated since the Twenties; but smaller quantities from Florida, California, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Central and South American countries are becoming increasingly available. Since papaya trees produce fruit through all seasons, a good supply is always available. There is a peak in early summer and again in autumn.

Shopping

Papayas are picked when firm-ripe to help them survive long-distance shipping to market and frequently sold partially ripe. Papayas turn from green to yellow-orange as they ripen, so you should choose fruits that are at least half yellow; the color change begins at the bottom and progresses toward the stem end. Papayas that are completely green with no tinge of yellow have been picked too soon and may never ripen properly.

Fully ripe papayas are three-quarters to totally yellow or yellow-orange; they will give slightly when pressed gently between your palms, but should not be soft and mushy at the stem end. The skin should be smooth, unbruised, and unshriveled, but light, superficial blemishes may be disregarded. Uncut papayas have no aroma; cut papayas should smell fragrant and sweet, not harsh or fermented.

Storage

A papaya that is one-quarter to one-third yellow will ripen in two to four days if left at room temperature: Place it in a paper bag with a banana to hasten ripening. Transfer ripe papayas to a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to a week, but the delicate flavor fades, so use them within a day or two, if possible.

Preparation

Wash the papaya, then cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Save them for garnishing, if desired. Use this papaya "boat" as a container for salads or simply eat it with a spoon. Or, pare a whole or halved papaya with a paring knife or vegetable peeler and cut the flesh into wedges, slices (either crosswise or lengthwise), or dice. A melon baller is handy for scooping out the flesh.

Unlike most fruits, papaya does not discolor or darken after it's been cut or peeled.

Do not use uncooked papaya (or fresh pineapple) in gelatin molds, as the papain enzyme it contains will prevent the mixture from gelling.

Baking: Bake unripe papaya halves as you would winter squash or pumpkin, or use them for chutney. Sweet, ripe papaya halves can also be baked with a sprinkling of sugar and served with a dollop of yogurt for a very special dessert. Cooking time: about 25 minutes in a 325°F oven.

Nutrition Chart

Papaya/1 cup cubes

55
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
2.5
1
Carbohydrate (g)
14
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
4
Vitamin C (mg)
87
Folate (mcg)
53


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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