Like the Papaw, the papaya is native to North America (and in some regions, also called paupaw). But with those two comparisons the similarities end. The papaya tree is a horticultural wonder, growing from seed to a 20-foot, fruit-bearing tree in less than 18 months. Papayas are cultivated in semitropical zones around the world and can range in size from 1 to 20 pounds. The papaya variety found most often in the United States is the Solo, grown in Hawaii and Florida. It’s large (about 6 inches long and 1 to 2 pounds in weight) and pear shaped; when ripe, it has a vivid golden-yellow skin. The similarly colored flesh is juicy and silky smooth, with an exotic sweet-tart flavor. The rather large center cavity is packed with shiny, grayish-black seeds. Though the peppery seeds are edible (and make a delicious salad dressing), they’re generally discarded. Look for richly colored papayas that give slightly to palm pressure. Slightly green papayas will ripen quickly at room temperature, especially if placed in a paper bag. Refrigerate completely ripe fruit and use as soon as possible. Ripe papaya is best eaten raw, whereas slightly green fruit can be cooked as a vegetable. The fruit contains Papain, a digestive enzyme that is used chiefly in Meat Tenderizers. Papaya is a very good source of vitamins A and C.

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