Papaya belongs to the family Caricaceae, with only 4 genera and 31 species. Its genus is Carica and its species is Carica papaya. It’s a large, single-stemmed herbaceous perennial growing up to 30 ft tall, but less than 20 ft in cultivation. The leaves are very large, being up to 2 ½ ft wide, palmately lobed or deeply inscised, with entire margins and petioles of 1 to 3 ½ feet in length. Stems appear as a trunk, are hollow, light green to tan brown in color and up to 8 inches in diameter. They bear prominent leaf scars left by older leaves and fruits.
The plants are dioecious or hermaphroditic. The cultivars produce only female or bisexual (hermaphroditic) flowers, which is preferred in cultivation. Papayas are sometimes said to be trioecious. This means that separate plants bear either male, female, or bisexual flowers. The female and bisexual flowers are waxy, ivory white, and borne on short peduncles in leaf axils along the main stem and are very beautiful. The flowers are solitary or small cymes of three individuals. The ovary position is superior. Prior to opening, bisexual flowers are tubular and female flowers are pear-shaped. Since bisexual plants produce the most desirable fruit and are self-pollinating, they’re the preferred plant over female or male plants. Bisexual flowering plants are self-pollinating, but female plants must be cross-pollinated by either bisexual or male plants.
The fruit are large, oval to round berries. They’re called pepo-like since they resemble melons, because of their central seed cavity. The fruit are borne axillary on the main stem usually as single fruit but sometimes they are in small clusters. They weigh anywhere from ½ to 20 pounds. They’re green until they ripen and turn yellow to red-orange. The flesh is yellow-orange when ripe and the edible portion is the area surrounding the central seed cavity. Papaya plants begin bearing fruit in 6 to 12 months and the fruit matures in 5 to 9 months.
Papaya are grown in hot, rainy tropical lowlands with temperature ranges of 70 to 90 degrees F. They’re intolerant to freezing and high winds which can cause fruit loss, leaf damage or uprooting of plants. The fruits are harvested by hand. They’re handled carefully so as to not scratch the skin, which would release latex and stain the skin. Papayas are commonly heat treated postharvest at 110 to 120 degrees F, then rinsed in cool water, to reduce fruit rot. Sometimes fungicides are used on the fruit and applied in the wax, which is applied during packing. Radiation treatments are used to sterilize fruit fly eggs and larva if the fruit is being exported. To prevent bruising they’re packed in single-layer boxes. For better color the fruits can be cured in 85 degrees F and 100% humidity. The fruit is extremely perishable and is injured in temperatures below 50 degrees F. At room temperature they last from 3 to 8 days.
Papaya is native to tropical America, from southern Mexico to theAndes of South America. Native Indians spread the plant south and the Spanish, during exploration, spread it throughout the Caribbean. Papayas, which are native to Central America, have been long revered by the Latin American Indians. Papaya was distributed throughout the tropics by the 17th century. Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought papayas to many other subtropical lands to which they had journeyed including the Philippines, India, and parts of Africa. It was introduced to Hawaii in the 1800’s. To this day Hawaii is the only state in the US to produce papaya commercially. In the beginning of the 20th century a small industry was attempted in Florida but declined due to papaya ringspot virus. The same pathogen threatened the Hawaiian industry but biotechnologists at the University of Hawaii inserted a gene into the Sunrise cultivar causing resistance to the virus; therefore, the papaya is the first genetically modified fruit for human consumption. If you are avoiding foods with GMO’s then you wouldn’t want to consume Hawaiian papaya. Today, the largest commercial producers of papayas include the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
There have been breeding programs in numerous countries that have produced cultivars that match local preferences for fruit flavor, size, shape, flesh color, and other characteristics. Popular in South America are the yellow-fleshed cultivars by the name of Hortus Gold and Honey Gold. They’re twice the size of the Solo types grown in Hawaii, but smaller than most the papaya grown in tropical America. Cultivars grown in Central America are larger and often cylindrical in shape. Examples are Santa Cruz Giant, Cedro and Cartegena. Sunup, which has red flesh, and Rainbow, which has yellow flesh, are transgenic cultivars and have resistance to papaya ringspot virus. They were derived from Solo parent lines.
Papaya grown in Hawaii is used mostly for fresh market, about 93%, while small amounts are processed into juices and other processed foods. Young leaves can be cooked and eaten as a green vegetable. Green (unripe) papaya is used as a vegetable or salad garnish, but it must be boiled first to denature the papain in the latex.
Papayas are pear-shaped or spherical fruits that can grow as long as 20 inches. The fruit found in markets average about 7 inches and weigh about one pound. The flesh is a rich orange color with either yellow or pink hues. The inner cavity of the fruit contains black, round seeds encased in a gelatinous-like substance. The seeds are edible but have a peppery flavor and are somewhat bitter. The fruit and the other parts of the tree contain papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins. The enzyme is especially concentrated in the fruit when unripe. Papain is extracted to make digestive enzyme dietary supplements and is also used as an ingredient in chewing gum.
The papaya was reputably called “the fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus, probably because of its sweet delicious flavor that has musky undertones and a soft butter-like consistency. Many people will notice a resinous flavor, like the smell of the coniferous tree. At one time they were considered exotic, but now can be found in markets throughout the year. The papaya tree produces fruit year round, with a seasonal peak in the early summer and the fall.
Papaya have much to offer. They have the tropical color of the sun. They’re delicious tasting, but also are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Nutrients include carotenes, flavonoids, vitamin C, B vitamins including folate and pantothenic acid, minerals, such as potassium and magnesium and last but not least fiber. As a whole these nutrients promote the health of the cardiovascular system and help protect against colon cancer. The papaya’s fiber is able to bind to cancer-causing toxins in the colon, which keeps them away from the healthy colon cells. In addition, the papaya’s beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin E have been associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. They work together to protect colon cells from free radical damage. The enzyme papain, which is found in papayas, is used as a digestive enzyme and also used to treat sport injuries and other traumas, and allergies. Papain and chymopapain,another enzyme found in papayas, have been shown to lower inflammation and to improve the healing of burns.
The tropical papaya fruit is commonly served in salads or is made into sauces, juice, pickles and jams. The fruit is very easy to prepare. First wash it in cool water. Then cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Next peel it and slice it into sections, or use a melon baller to scoop out the flesh. To add a little extra zest, you can squeeze lemon or lime juice on top. You can save the seeds and use them for a garnish or dry them and grind them into a pepper-like seasoning. Because of the papain, which breaks down protein, they make a great meat tenderizer. You can wrap papaya leaves around meat before grilling or baking or you can marinate meat with papaya chunks before cooking.
After buying papaya, you will want to eat them within a day of purchasing them. Choose papayas that have reddish-orange skin and are slightly soft to the touch. If they have patches of yellow color, they will take a few more days to ripen. You shouldn’t purchase papayas that are totally green or overly hard, unless you plan on cooking them or you want to use a green papaya in a cold dish like an Asian salad, because they won’t develop that characteristic sweet juicy flavor. A few black spots on the surface are fine but avoid fruit that is bruised or overly soft. Fruit that is partially yellow should be left at room temperature so that they might ripen in a few days. To speed up the process, place them in a paper bag with a banana. Ripe papayas should be placed in the refrigerator and eaten in one or two days to enjoy maximum flavor. Eat fully ripened papaya to obtain the most antioxidants.
Papayas can be used in many different ways. One papaya can be eaten as is, as if it was a melon. They can be added to a fruit salad. The fruit should be added to the salad just before serving, because it will cause other fruit to become very soft. The seeds can be added to a creamy salad dressing for a peppery taste. For a unique salsa combine diced papaya with jalapeno peppers, cilantro and ginger. It goes wonderfully with halibut, scallops or shrimp. Fill one-half of a papaya cut lengthwise and the seeds scooped with a fruit salad. Combine papaya in a blender with strawberries and yogurt for a cold soup. Papaya syrup is a sedative and tonic. The green unripe papaya can be served cooked in salads, stews and curries. In Asia, the leaves picked young, are steamed and eaten like spinach.
The flesh of the papaya is used against freckles and the latex is used against moles, but is irritating and can cause allergic reactions in some people. The plant’s roots are used for strengthening the nervous system.In Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, papaya has been used for a long time as a traditional remedy for contraception and abortion. Scientific research confirmed in monkeys it was very affective in contraception and was effective in the males as well. The unripe fruit contain the most phytochemicals that stop progesterone activity. In small , ripe amounts it won’t cause abortion. Genetically engineered strains contain low doses of the phytochemicals.
Powdered meat tenderizers and digestive tablets are made from papaya. The fruit and especially the seeds contain an anthelmintic alkaloid called carpaine, meaning it kills intestinal worms. But too high of a dose can be lethal.
Papayas are like avocados and banana, because they all contain substances called chitinases, which are associated with latex-fruit allergy syndrome. There is much evidence to support the idea of the cross-reaction between latex and these fruits. If you have a latex allergy, then you very likely will be also allergic to these fruits. Fruits that have been processed with ethylene gas will have an increased amount of these chitinases. Organic fruit, which is not treated with gas, will have fewer of the allergy causing compounds. Cooking the fruit may deactivate the enzymes.
There was a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology. The data indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day might lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). ARMD is the primary cause of vision loss in older adults. The data indicates a decrease of risk by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily. In this study over 110,000 women and men were involved. The researchers evaluated the effect of the study participants’ consumption of fruits, vegetables, the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and carotenoids on the development of early ARMD or neovascular ARMD, which is a more severe form of the illness associated with vision loss. While, to their surprise, intakes of vegetables, antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids weren’t strongly related to incidence of either form of ARMD, fruit intake was definitely protective against the severe form of this vision-destroying disease. Papaya can help you reach the goal of three servings of fruit per day. Add slices of fresh papaya to your morning cereal, or to your breakfast or lunch- time yogurt. At lunch or supper add to your green salads. Cut a papaya in half and fill with cottage cheese, crab, shrimp or tuna salad. Place slices of fresh papaya over any broiled fish.
Top 10 Countries in World Production of Papaya