Warm weather months are my favored time for papaya. It is a great
tasting fruit, especially for breakfast, especially in the vicinity of
21.9 North and 158.4 West (Honolulu), where it always seems to taste even
better—wonder why? Here is some background information on papaya
drawn from an article I did for school awhile back.
The papaya is native to the tropics of the Western Hemisphere and appears
in the records of Cortez’s invasion of Mexico in 1519. Papaya is
grown from seed that produces a fast-growing tree-like herb growing to
a height of twenty feet. While the tree will live for 25 years, planters
renew them every three years. The tree produces fruit, in large quantity,
throughout the year. Fruit size varies from ½ to 20 pounds.
Large papayas are grown solely to extract papain, a proteolytic enzyme
used in the beverage, food and pharmaceutical industries.
The best papayas come from Hawaii. Captain Cook presented papaya
seeds from Central America to Hawaii’s king in 1778. It quickly became
“the fruit of royalty.” Two small-sized varieties comprise Hawaii’s
native papaya for consumption and export of fruit, and seeds to planters
in Asia — the golden-fleshed Kapoho Solo and Sunrise Solo,
a reddish orange variant, both developed by the University of Hawaii, which
has become a world center of papaya research and development, including
quarantine and de-infestation procedures. As a result, Hawaii is
the major source of papayas for Japan, the United States, and other countries
with strict quarantine regulations.
The yellow-sunset flesh of a ripe papaya is superficially similar to
that of a melon. The ripe pulp is as spoonable as a fiberless mango.
Papaya taste is soft, juicy and silky-smooth, with a delicate sweet flavor
and somewhat musky or sour finish. A ripe Solo papaya-half, served
alone with a few drops of limejuice, is rightfully a mainstay of breakfast
in Hawaii. A ripe papaya also goes wonderfully with prosciutto ham.
Because cooked green papayas are nearly tasteless, the chef is advised
to work with the ripened fruit, which does not turn mushy when cooked.
Cooked papaya is very good in savory dishes taking a role of vegetable,
fruit, sauce or liaison—as a meat tenderizer agent in marinades, as kebabs
with chicken, as potato-like chunks with roast beef, or pureed and combined
with ginger, cayenne, and some cream for a buttery sauce that is more vegetable
A cup of papaya has only 55 calories, despite its sweet taste.
They are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber.
The seeds are edible but are usually discarded.
Papayas do not travel well and must be picked green for export.
Local buyers should look for fruit that is bruise-free with smooth, unwrinkled
skin. Color should be pale green to pale yellow but is not the sole
indication of ripeness. A ripe papaya will give slightly to palm
pressure. Not surprisingly, given their fragile nature, papayas are quite
expensive. Papayas should be ripened at room temperature. Ripe
fruit will keep in the refrigerator up to a week.