Native to southern Mexico and Central America, papaya is now cultivated in most tropical regions, including Hawaii, where it was introduced in the early 1800s. Today, Hawaii is still the only U.S. state where papaya is commercially grown.
There are two main papaya varieties: Mexican, which can weigh as much as 10 pounds, and the much smaller Hawaiian type seen in grocery stores. Sometimes known as a tree melon or pawpaw, papaya is known not just for its rich sweet flavor, but also for its use as a meat tenderizer.
Initially green and somewhat bitter in taste, papayas are butter-yellowa when fully ripe and shaped like a pear. Their pale-orange flesh has dozens of small, black, gelitonous seeds at the center, similar to a melon.
Unripe papaya is used in some areas of the world as a vegetable substitute, but is not recommended as a food when green, unless cooked. Recommended ways to eat papaya includes its juice, which is sometimes added to other natural fruit juices because of its pleasing taste, but it's also wonderful in salads, salsa, and, of course, all by itself.
Health Benefits of Papaya
Vitamin C is one of the strong points of papaya, providing a whopping 144% of the daily recommended value per serving, which is great as an infection fighter as well as a free radical-scavenging antioxidant. Other vitamins include 31% of the daily value in vitamin A, required for healthy skin, mucous membranes, and vision, and especially effective against macular degeneration. Papaya provides 13% of the DRV in folate, and good amounts of fiber and potassium, a cell and body fluid component that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
The B vitamins in papayas such as folic acid, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), riboflavin, and thiamin (vitamin B1) are called "essential" because they're required by your body, but not produced by your body, so they need an outside source to provide what is needed to metabolize - that's why including foods like papaya in your diet is important.
Papaya is a natural remedy for many ailments, including atherosclerosis, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, and helps keep your digestive and immune systems healthy. Papaya also contains the flavonoid beta carotene, which studies have proven to help protect against lung and mouth cancers. Other flavonoids, namely lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthins, have potent antioxidant properties against free radicals that can wear down your body and cause premature aging and degenerative diseases.
Papayas contain 212 amino acids and several enzymes, including papain, a proteolytic enzyme that has an anti-inflammatory effect on the stomach, including swelling and fever that can develop post-surgery. Papain helps proteins digest faster, which discourages acid reflux, and has demonstrated effectiveness in treating ulcers and even relieving irritable bowel syndrome. Papaya seeds have been used in folk medicine to treat parasite and ringworm infections.
However, consume papayas in moderation because they contain fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts.
Two genetically modified varieties of papaya were introduced to Hawaii in the 1990s, making papaya the first GM food to be introduced to the food supply in the U.S. For more information, read Everything You HAVE TO KNOW about Dangerous Genetically Modified Foods
Papaya Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies Done on Papaya
A fermented papaya preparation was found to have wound-healing properties in one analysis, which researchers concluded would be especially beneficial for diabetes patients1. Another study involved the successful formulation of a dual-action cleanser/debrider with antibacterial properties from the papaya-derived enzyme papain, which researchers reported might be beneficial for wound management.2
Another study indicated anti-cancer activity in papaya seeds and pulp, due to the presence of benzyl glucosinolate compounds. However, while the BG compounds in the seeds were shown to have similar strength at every stage of the ripening process, the pulp was found to contain more of this compound before maturation of the papaya, to the point that it nearly disappeared after the fruit was fully ripe. Tests confirmed higher concentration of cancer inhibition with higher presence of BG.3
Papaya Healthy Recipes:
Zingy Fruity Salsa
|1 cup diced fresh mango
||1 cup diced fresh pineapple
||1 cup diced papaya
||1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
|1/2 large red onion, finely diced
||4-5 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
||1 tsp. olive oil
||1 tsp. salt
|1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh mint
- Toss the first five ingredients together in a large bowl. Add lime juice, olive oil, and salt, and stir well. Sprinkle with chopped mint leaves before serving.
Papaya Fun Facts
Papayas were first referenced in 1526 by the Spanish chronicler Oviedo, after discovering this fruit on the Caribbean coasts of Panama and Colombia. Christopher Columbus is said to have called papayas the "fruit of the angels."
Sometimes thought of as an exotic fruit, papayas are native to tropical areas, including Hawaii, the only place they're grown in the U.S. This sweet, succulent fruit contains about 300% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, known for its infection-fighting abilities, and vitamin A for healthy skin, mucus membranes, and vision. Other nutrients in papaya include folate, dietary fiber, potassium, essential B vitamins, and several flavonoids, including betacarotene, shown to help protect against lung and mouth cancer.
One of the most important ingredients in papaya is the enzyme papain, shown to be effective against a number of stomach and intestinal problems, from expelling parasites to easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
While it's good as an addition to other fruits, one of the best ways to enjoy papaya fruit is to cut it like a melon and eat it on its own.