The papaya is a tropical fruit native to South and Central America, and has long been grown in the Caribbean islands. The papaya is highly regarded for its sweet flavor and buttery texture. When Christopher Columbus first encountered the fruit, he called it the “fruit of the angels.” The Spanish and Portuguese introduced the fruit to various tropical and subtropical parts of the world including India, the Philippines and parts of Africa. Typical papayas are elongated in shape, but some varieties are spherical. Depending on the variety, papayas have pink, yellow, or red flesh that is filled with edible black seeds. The seeds have a peppery, bitter flavor. Flowers and greens from the papaya tree are sometimes used as a vegetable.
An easy and delicious way to enjoy papaya is to simply slice it in half, scoop out the seeds if desired, and eat the fruit with a spoon. Try adding papaya to fruit salad for a tropical kick. If using in fruit salad, add papaya just prior to serving because papayas contains an enzyme, papain, which will cause the other fruits in the salad to become mushy after a while. Combine fresh papaya, jalapeno, cilantro, and ginger for a sweet, tangy salsa that goes well with seafood. Papayas are a perfect addition to smoothies, cold soups, and yogurt. Try blending papaya seeds in salad dressing for a peppery punch.
When ripe, papayas will feel soft, similar to a ripe avocado. The skin should be reddish-orange when the fruit is ripe. If the skin is yellow, the fruit is not quite ripe yet, and should be left at room temperature to ripen. Keep ripe papayas in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to a week. Always wash fresh produce before use.