The papaya is a delicious and nutritious fruit with a sweet flavor and soft texture. Native to the American tropics, it grows on a large tree-like plant. Papaya typically weigh about one pound. The papaya used to be considered an exotic fruit, but you can easily find it in commonly frequented markets.
The papaya consists of three parts: the leaves, the fruit itself and the seeds. The leaves are steamed in some parts of the world and eaten as you would eat spinach. The fruit itself is better eaten ripe. The seeds can be safely eaten, although they have a bitter or peppery taste. The most commonly eaten part of the papaya is the fruit itself.
The papaya fruit is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin C, carotenes and flavonoids. It also contains B vitamins, pantothenic acid and folate. Papayas contain potassium and magnesium. It is also a good source of vitamin E and vitamin A. The vitamin C and vitamin A in papayas help to maintain a healthy immune system. You might consider this fruit a healthy choice when suffering from colds, the flu or ear infections. Papayas are also high in fiber, which helps to lower high cholesterol.
This fruit is also known for its ability to assist in the digestion of proteins. It contains the enzyme papain, which aids in digestion as well as in the healing of athletic injuries and allergies. It also contains the enzyme chymopapain, which works with papain to lower inflammation and assist in recovery from burns. The vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants in papayas work together to reduce inflammation, increase heart health and protect against certain types of cancer.
Selecting and Storing Papaya
If you want to eat a papaya right away, select one that feels soft and is orange in color. If parts of it are yellow, it is not ripe yet and you will have to wait a few days for it to ripen. Leaving the papaya at room temperature will allow it to ripen faster.
If already ripe, store the papaya in the refrigerator and eat it within a day or two. Avoid very green or hard papayas, unless you plan to cook them. Avoid overly bruised papayas, as this indicates lack of freshness. Fully ripe papayas offer the most antioxidants. This is true for fruits in general; their antioxidant properties increase as they ripen.
Ways to Eat Papaya
The papaya fruit is generally eaten raw without the skin, leaves or seeds. You can cut it up and put it in smoothies, fruit salads, cereals, yogurts and green salads. Add it to cottage cheese or to sea foods such as tuna, shrimp or broiled fish. You can cut the green, unripe papaya and cook it in stews or curries, as is often found in Thai cuisine. Papaya seeds are edible. They can be ground and used as a replacement for pepper, or mixed into salad dressings.