Other Names: Mamao (Brazil), papaw (Australia), tree melon.

General Description: The papaya (Carica papaya) is a large pear-shaped fruit with silky-smooth flesh, a delicate sweet flavor, and a center full of edible black seeds. The papaya is native to Central or South America. The fruit (and leaves) of papaya contain papain, an enzyme that helps digestion and is used to tenderize meat. The edible seeds have a spicy flavor somewhat reminiscent of black pepper.

There are two types of papaya, Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian papaya is pear-shaped, generally weighs about 1 pound, and has yellow skin when ripe. Its flesh is bright orange or pink with small black seeds clustered in the center. The Mexican papaya, which may weigh up to 10 pounds, has green skin. Its flesh ranges from salmon-red to bright orange in color, with a musky and less-sweet taste.

Season: Papayas are available year-round.

Purchase: When selecting Hawaiian-type papayas, look for plump fruit that is warm yellow in color with smooth, unblemished skin. The neck will still be somewhat green when the rest is ripe. Papayas have little aroma, even when ripe.

Mexican papayas may remain mostly green even when fully ripe. When selecting a Mexican papaya that is already cut and wrapped, choose the one that has the deepest salmon or red flesh color. When choosing a whole, uncut fruit, choose one that has the most burnt-orange skin color and an overall “give” to the fruit.

Avoid: Avoid hard or shriveled papayas or fruit that is overly soft or has a fermented aroma. Avoid papaya with dark spots because they often go beneath the skin’s surface and spoil the flavor. Avoid cut Mexican papayas with pale red or pinkish color, signaling an underripe fruit.

Storage: Place papayas in a paper bag with a banana to speed ripening. Refrigerate uncut ripe fruit in a plastic or paper bag for up to 3 days.


  1. Cut in half lengthwise.
  2. Scoop out the small black seeds from the center.
  3. Eat the flesh with a spoon or peel with a vegetable peeler and cut into slices.
  4. Discard the seeds or save for garnish.

Note: Unripe Mexican papayas should not be eaten raw because of the latex they contain.

Serving Suggestions: Use the black seeds as a garnish on any papaya dish. Add diced papaya to tropical salsa. Stuff the papaya cavity with cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or chicken, turkey, or shrimp salad. Peel, seed, and blend papaya with milk, yogurt, or orange juice for a shake.

Flavor Affinities: Ripe papaya: banana, coconut, lemon, lime, melon, nectarine, orange, passion fruit, pineapple. Unripe papaya: garlic, ginger, rice wine, scallions, soy sauce.

from Quirk Books: