What Is Papaya?
Carica papaya is the scientific name of the orange and green fruit known more commonly as papaya. It tastes sweet and has a soft texture that many find appealing. The seeds are also edible, although they’re more bitter than the fruit itself.
Papayas grow best in a tropical region where there is plentiful rainfall but little long-term flooding. Freezing temperatures may damage a papaya crop.
Papayas are originally from Central America. Indigenous people in that area ate papayas and used them for medicinal purposes. In the 1500s and 1600s, Spanish and Portuguese colonizers brought the seeds to other tropical areas of the globe, including the Philippines and India.
Today, Hawaii, the Philippines, India, Ceylon, Australia, and tropical regions in Africa are the top papaya-producing regions. Smaller papaya-farming operations still exist in Central and South America.
Papaya has many different names all over the globe. In Australia, it’s called a pawpaw. In southern Asia, it’s sometimes called a kepaya, lapaya, or tapaya. Its name in French is sometimes “figueir des iles,” or fig of the islands. Some Spanish names for papaya include “melon zapote,” “fruta bomba,” or “mamona.”
You may encounter many varieties of papaya in a market, including:
- Kapaho solo (also known as puna solo)
- Hortus gold
- Honey gold
- Improved Peterson
- Guinea gold
- Coorg honeydew
Protection against heart disease
Papayas contain high levels of antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Diets high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of heart disease. The antioxidants prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. When cholesterol oxidizes, it’s more likely to create blockages that lead to heart disease.
Additionally, papaya's high fiber content may reduce the risk of heart disease. High-fiber diets lower cholesterol levels.
Other papaya benefits include folic acid, which is needed to convert the amino acid homocysteine into less harmful amino acids. (Amino acids are molecules that help make up proteins.) High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid mostly found in meat products, are a risk factor for heart disease. Eating papaya may lower homocysteine levels, reducing this risk factor.
Digestion and reduced inflammation
Papayas contain two enzymes, papain and chymopapain. Both enzymes digest proteins, meaning they can help with digestion and reduce inflammation. Papain is an ingredient in some over-the-counter supplements to help with minor upset stomach.
Both papain and chymopapain also help reduce inflammation. They may help ease acute pain, like that from burns or bruises, and might help with chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and asthma.
Eating foods high in vitamin C can help boost your immune system, allowing the body to fight off bacterial and viral illnesses. Papaya has a good amount of this antioxidant.
Papaya is also a good source of vitamin A, which is important for a healthy and functional immune system.
Potentially protects against prostate cancer
Lycopene is a natural pigment found in red and orange foods. Tomatoes, watermelon, and papaya are good sources of lycopene. Some experts believe that eating more lycopene reduces the risk of prostate cancer, but some research has been inconclusive.
However, in other studies, eating a diet high in lycopene along with green tea was found to reduce the risk of prostate cancer significantly.
Papaya seed benefits
Papaya seeds have traditionally been used as a natural remedy to combat intestinal parasites. Some studies suggest that compounds in papaya seeds may have antiparasitic effects, helping eliminate harmful organisms from the digestive tract.
Some research also suggests that papaya seeds may have a protective effect on the liver. Certain compounds in the seeds, such as flavonoids and phenolic acids, might support liver health and function.
Papaya seeds contain bioactive compounds that may have anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds may help reduce inflammation in the body and provide relief from inflammatory conditions.
Papaya enzyme benefits
Papaya enzymes, particularly papain, are known for their digestive properties. They help break down dietary proteins in the stomach. This can lead to reduced bloating, gas, and indigestion.
Applying creams or ointments that contain papaya enzyme is believed to promote wound healing. The enzymes may help remove dead or damaged tissue, aiding in the healing process.
Some skincare products contain papaya enzymes due to their exfoliating properties. Papain helps remove dead skin cells, leaving the skin smoother and more radiant.
A medium-sized papaya contains more than 200% of the vitamin C you need per day. This vitamin helps reduce the risk of heart disease and boosts the immune system. Papayas are also a good source of:
Nutrients per serving
A medium-sized papaya (approximately 275 grams) contains about:
- 119 calories
- 1.3 grams of protein
- 30 grams of carbohydrates
- Less than 1 gram of fat
- 4.7 grams of dietary fiber
- 21.58 grams of sugar
Things to watch out for
Papaya is generally safe to consume, but some people may have allergic reactions. Papaya has natural sugars, so if you need to limit them for any reason, eat an amount that aligns with your health needs.
How to Eat a Papaya
How to pick a good papaya
When choosing a papaya, consider when and how you want to eat it. Green papayas are not ripe yet and will not have the characteristic flavor or texture. But unripe papayas are used in some cooked dishes or in certain styles of salads. Papayas with red and orange skin are riper. You want it to be slightly soft to the touch, but not overly soft.
If you buy unripe papayas and want them to ripen before you eat them, store them at room temperature until ripe.
Once you're ready to eat the papaya, simply cut it open, scoop out the seeds, and eat the orange interior. The skin and seeds are not poisonous, but most people don't eat them.
Many recipes include papaya, such as:
- Papaya salsa
- Papaya jam
- Papaya smoothies
- Papaya relish
- Fruit bowls with papaya
- Papaya salads
- 1 small green papaya (peeled, seeds removed, and shredded)
- 2-3 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2-3 Thai bird's eye chilies (adjust to your spice preference, minced)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts (coarsely chopped)
- 2 tablespoons dried shrimp (optional, for added umami flavor)
- 1-2 tablespoons fish sauce (adjust to taste)
- 1-2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar (adjust to taste)
- Lime wedges (for serving)
- Prepare the dressing:
- In a mortar and pestle, pound the minced garlic and Thai bird's eye chilies together to release their flavors. Or, you can mince them finely with a knife.
- Make the dressing:
- In a small bowl, combine the pounded garlic and chilies with fish sauce and palm sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Adjust the quantities to achieve a balanced flavor profile, combining salty, sweet, sour, and spicy elements.
- Shred the papaya:
- Peel the green papaya using a vegetable peeler. Cut it in half and remove the seeds. Grate the papaya using a box grater or a julienne peeler. Place the shredded papaya in a mixing bowl.
- Assemble the salad:
- Add the halved cherry tomatoes, chopped roasted peanuts, and dried shrimp (if using) to the shredded papaya.
- Add the dressing:
- Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients. Use salad tongs or clean hands to gently toss and mix everything together, making sure the dressing coats the ingredients evenly.
- Adjust flavors:
- Taste the salad and adjust the flavors as needed. You can add more fish sauce, sugar, or lime juice to achieve the desired balance of flavors.
- Transfer the papaya salad to a serving plate. Garnish with additional chopped peanuts. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
- 1 cup ripe papaya (peeled, seeds removed, and cubed)
- 1 banana (ripe and peeled)
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or your preferred yogurt (plain or vanilla)
- 1/2 cup milk (dairy or plant-based)
- 1 tablespoon honey or sweetener of choice (optional, adjust to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- Ice cubes (as needed)
- Prepare the papaya:
- Peel the papaya, cut it in half, and scoop out the seeds. Cut the papaya into cubes.
- Blend the ingredients:
- Place the papaya cubes, banana, Greek yogurt, milk, honey (if using), and vanilla extract (if using) in a blender.
- Blend until smooth:
- Blend the ingredients on high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too thick, you can add a little more milk to get it to the right consistency.
- Taste and adjust:
- Taste the smoothie and adjust the sweetness with more honey if needed. You can also adjust the thickness by adding more milk or ice cubes.
- Pour the papaya smoothie into glasses. You can add a few ice cubes to keep it chilled. You can also garnish with additional papaya slices or a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Papayas are a sweet fruit and grow in tropical regions. They have many varieties. Papaya has many benefits, including protection against heart disease, reduced inflammation, aid in digestion, and boosting your immune system. There are also benefits to eating papaya seeds. You can enjoy papayas in many ways, such as in smoothies and salads.
- Is it good to eat papaya every day?
Papayas are generally safe to eat unless you have an allergy or are avoiding sugars. However, it's best to eat any food in moderation.
- When should you eat a papaya?
Papayas with red and orange skin are riper. You want it to be slightly soft to the touch, but not overly soft.