The fruit of the papaya tree, which grows from seed to a 20-foot fruit-bearing tree in under 18 months. The fruit is juicy, smooth, and has a sweet-tart flavor. “Papain,” a digestive enzyme used in meat tenderizers, comes from papayas.
The papaya /pəˈpaɪə/ or /pəˈpɑːjə/ (from Carib via Spanish), papaw, or pawpaw is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya, the sole species in the genus Carica of the plant family Caricaceae. It is native to the tropics of the Americas, perhaps from southern Mexico and neighbouring Central America. It was first cultivated in Mexicoseveral centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classical civilizations.
The papaya is a large, tree-like plant, with a single stem growing from 5 to 10 m (16 to 33 ft) tall, with spirally arranged leaves confined to the top of the trunk. The lower trunk is conspicuously scarred where leaves and fruit were borne. The leaves are large, 50–70 cm (20–28 inches) in diameter, deeply palmately lobed, with seven lobes. Unusually for such large plants, the trees are dioecious. The tree is usually unbranched, unless lopped. The flowers are similar in shape to the flowers of the Plumeria, but are much smaller and wax-like. They appear on the axils of the leaves, maturing into large fruit – 15–45 cm (5.9–18 in) long and 10–30 cm (3.9–12 in) in diameter. The fruit is ripe when it feels soft (as soft as a ripe avocado or a bit softer) and its skin has attained an amber to orange hue.
Carica papaya was the first transgenic fruit tree to have its genome deciphered.
Papayas can be used as a food, a cooking aid and in traditional medicine.
Both green papaya fruit and the tree’s latex are rich in papain, a protease used for tenderizing meat and other proteins. Its ability to break down tough meat fibers was used for thousands of years by indigenous Americans. It is now included as a component in powdered meat tenderizers.
Nutrients, phytochemicals and culinary practices
Papaya fruit is a source of nutrients such as provitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, folate and dietary fiber. Papaya skin, pulp and seeds also contain a variety of phytochemicals, including lycopene and polyphenols. In preliminary research, danielone, a phytoalexin found in papaya fruit, showed antifungal activity against Colletotrichum gloesporioides, a pathogenic fungus of papaya.
The ripe fruit of the papaya is usually eaten raw, without skin or seeds. The unripe green fruit can be eaten cooked, usually in curries, salads, and stews. Green papaya is used in Southeast Asian cooking, both raw and cooked. In Thai cuisine, papaya is used to make Thai salads such as som tam and Thai curries such as kaeng som when still not fully ripe. In Indonesian cuisine, the unripe green fruits and young leaves are boiled for use as part of lalab salad, while the flower buds are sautéed and stir-fried with chillies and green tomatoes as Minahasan papaya flower vegetable dish. Papayas have a relatively high amount of pectin, which can be used to make jellies. The smell of ripe, fresh papaya flesh can strike some people as unpleasant.
The black seeds of the papaya are edible and have a sharp, spicy taste. They are sometimes ground and used as a substitute for black pepper.
In some parts of Asia, the young leaves of the papaya are steamed and eaten like spinach.