What is a Papaya?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The papaya originated in Central and South America but now thrives in many countries with tropical or near tropical climates. When Columbus discovered the fruit on his travels, he described it as “the fruit of the angels.” Unlike some tropical fruits, the papaya appeals to most palates, and is quite easy to obtain even in countries where it does not grow well.

Christopher Columbus famously called papaya "the fruit of the angels."
Christopher Columbus famously called papaya "the fruit of the angels."

Papaya trees can grow to approximately 32 feet (10 m) tall. They have no branches, and the fruits, which produce year round, grow directly on the trunk of the tree. Papayas can be fairly large, sometimes as much as 20 inches (50.8 cm) long.

An unripe papaya.
An unripe papaya.

The fruit is sometimes round in shape, or may be more pear-shaped depending upon the variety and growing conditions. As available in stores, the papaya is generally not quite so long. Most have an average length of 7 inches (17.78 cm). The fruit is remarkably dense and may weigh up to a pound (approximately half a kilogram).

Papaya is rich in many vitamins.
Papaya is rich in many vitamins.

When fully ripe, the papaya has a yellowish to orange skin that is somewhat hard and not edible. Unripe papayas may be used in some recipes, but generally are not consumed. The interior of the fruit is deep orange, the taste sweet, and the texture soft. It is an excellent addition to the diet, as it contains a high amount of Vitamins A, C, and E, and folic acid. The papaya is also rich in dietary fiber and has antioxidant properties.

Diced papaya is sometimes used to added sweetness to salsas.
Diced papaya is sometimes used to added sweetness to salsas.

Black seeds mark the middle of the fruit. The seeds are not poisonous and many enjoy eating them. They are spicy, and in some cultures are finely ground to replace pepper. Others find the taste of the seeds a bit oily and bitter and simply discard them.

Freshly peeled papaya is sometimes featured in Asian fruit salads.
Freshly peeled papaya is sometimes featured in Asian fruit salads.

Papayas have long been known for their properties in improving digestion. The enzyme papain is extracted when the papaya is still unripe, and can be put into capsule or chewable form. Many swear by the papaya enzyme as an excellent alternative to less natural digestive aids like Tums®.

Papain can be used as a meat tenderizer as well, making tough meat more palatable. Papain is sometimes used with lime in ceviche. Ceviche is chopped fish cooked by the citric acid in lime, and the addition of papain can speed up the process.

The papaya makes a wonderful addition to fruit salads, and also is delightful consumed as is. Recipes abound to make more use of the fruit. Papaya can be used as an addition to chutney or salsa. It can be stuffed with shrimp and baked. When used in smoothies, ice creams and pies, it adds tropical flavor to dessert offerings. There are many Mexican and South American dishes including the papaya, since it proliferates in these regions and is frequently a daily part of meals.

Papaya juice or pulp can be added to an orange-banana or other fruit smoothie.
Papaya juice or pulp can be added to an orange-banana or other fruit smoothie.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon956034

thanks very useful for my school project post more :)

anon109107

thanks! it's very useful in my investigatory project.

anon87860

Thank you for the comprehensive summary on the fruit and the news that the seeds are edible.

anon41482

Can I use some of this article for a school project? I am doing a report on papayas and some of the information in this article is very useful!

leilani

This tropical fruit is rich in Vitamins A and C. Mix some in your fruit salad it will help keep your skin youthful looking.

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