Papayas 101

You put the lime in the coconut papaya and drink ’em both up…*

One of our big delights in summer and fall are the huge “Caribbean Red” or “Mexican” papayas. We usually buy them at Costco, but you’ll sometimes find them in the grocery stores as well.

Most people, if they’re familiar with papayas at all, are more familiar with the smaller Hawaiian papayas that are a little bigger than a pear. This variety is much larger – this one’s about 10″ long:

Caribbean Red Papaya

I’ve found that most people I’ve talked to have rarely, if ever, had papaya. And even those that have, don’t really know much about them or how to know when they’re ready to eat. They’re truly missing out on the fruit that Christopher Columbus supposedly called “the fruit of the angels”. So let’s have a quick lesson in papayas, OK?

Papayas are very high in Vitamin C, folate, and potassium, and they contain enzymes that aid digestion and reduce inflammation. They’re even supposed to help prevent colon cancer. More about them here.

Papayas are normally picked when green for shipping, but should be mostly yellow or orange when ripe, depending on variety. A ripe papaya should have a slight “give” when you press the skin, sort of like a ripe avocado. If they’re hard like a watermelon, they’re definitely not ripe. If they’re really soft, they’re probably overripe. Ripe papayas should also have a nice papaya scent at the stem end.

Papayas are usually not quite ripe when you buy them in the store. If possible, buy them when they’re at least half yellow, as it will be easier to tell if they’ve been bruised, but it’s OK to buy them green if that’s the only choice. If they’re not ripe when you buy them, just leave them out on the counter for a few days until they ripen. Depending on how green they are, they may take anywhere from a couple of days to a week to ripen. You’ll see that the one above is still speckled with green (the other side was almost all yellow), but it’s soft, indicating that it’s ripe. We probably could have left it out for another day or two, but we were impatient.

Slice them in half and you’ll see the seeds inside, which look a lot like capers. Just scrape them out and discard. (Technically they’re edible, but they’re peppery and usually bitter.) Depending on the variety, the papaya flesh may be yellow, orange, or reddish. The Caribbean Red variety, is, not surprisingly, reddish:

Papaya with seeds

Slice them into wedges, or dice them, and pretty much just serve them the same way you would melons.

My favorite way to serve it is to prick the flesh with a fork, and squeeze fresh lime juice over it. I think the lime juice enhances the flavor, and I’ve heard that it helps activate the enzymes in the papaya.

Papaya with lime juice

So don’t fear the papaya. Next time you see them in the store, consider giving one a try. Mmmmmm.

* Sorry if I’ve given you an earworm. Need a little “Coconut” fix now? Go here for your audio enjoyment.

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11 Responses to Papayas 101

  1. Rebecca says:

    I will never fear papayas again! I may even purchase one the next time I go grocery shopping…..thanks for the tutorial!

  2. Carole says:

    I know I’ve eaten papaya but I’ve never bought one at the store. I plan on looking for them next time I shop, thanks to you!

  3. Norma says:

    We’re so far north (and have such a small buying population) that by the time they get here, IF they do, they’re pretty pathetic-looking. But I will definitely check Costco and see if they have some nice ones. I have only recently experienced my first GOOD mangoes. I felt about mangoes the way you describe (and I also feel) about papayas, because we’ve just never had good ones up here, so I didn’t know what I was missing. And OMG, I LOVED the couple of batches I was able to get this spring at Costco.

  4. margene says:

    With your information I’ll be picking one up next time I see one in the store. My mouth is watering.

  5. Nora says:

    My only experience with a fresh papaya was enough to put me off them forever – it smelled and tasted like (sorry) vomit! What do you suppose that was all about?? Maybe it wasn’t ripe??

  6. Cayenne says:

    Sounds delicious. Thanks for the tutorial.

  7. Cookie says:

    I’m still afraid, but thanks for the info.

  8. Linda says:

    Checking the labels, I noticed that Caribbean Reds are grown in Belize. I’ve checked the website on the label and found Caribbean Reds are a different variety than the Mexican variety. I too have eaten a Mexican papaya and found that it has a slight musky smell that might be what Nora was commenting about. We eat a Caribbean Red every week and have never had a musky smell or taste. Nora, you might want to try a Caribbean Red. Papayas are too good to pass up.

  9. Alida says:

    Here in South Africa we call them pawpaws. We have papaya trees in our garden. They carry fruit right through our summer. I live on the subtropical south east coast of South Africa. Everybody has trees in their gardens. They are very easy to grow. Just plant some of the seeds. You will need a few trees in order to have female and male trees. Can’t have fruit without the daddy tree! We make fruit salad with them. We cut them in cubes and mix the cubes with other peeled and cubed summer fruits. We dress the fruit salad with fresh orange juice. Just before serving we slice in ripe bananas – bananas turn brown if left peeled too long. Delicious with vanilla icecream. Lovely as a starter for breakfast – a slice of papaya with lemon/orange juice.

  10. This is great I love the papaya in Costco. Last week I got some and made a sandwich it was the best sandwich I have made. You can see it here.

    http://www.ourwholesomehomes.com/2010/01/chicken-papaya-sandwich.html

  11. Janet says:

    I’m with Nora on this. I bought my first one. According to web photos, it was not the Hawaiian variety, but the variety listed as mexican papaya. When my daughter peeled it, the smell was… yuck. What we smelled was also found in the taste. My daugher spit hers out. After that, I decided to wait and try it in a smoothie. Almost ruined some good strawberries and banana. It was ripe, but I don’t think overly ripe. I thought “How can this fruit be something that people rave about?” I’ll have to check out more information on this fruit, so I can be a better judge about whether or not to buy one. I’d try again to purchase one, but only after I’ve done more research and know for sure what variety I’m looking at. There’s got to be a reason why so many people like this fruit, but this one is enough to make you never want it again!

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