Cut into a papaya and you’ll feel like you’re looking into a beautifully painted sunset over the ocean. Shades of deep orange, delicate pink and glowing yellow will sweep you into its tropical aura making you feel like you’re sunning yourself on a warm beach in the Caribbean.
Papayas have a rich history extending back to its roots to the warm, humid weather of southern Mexico and Central America. Referred to as the “tree of life” by the ancient Mayans who used papayas power to heal skin problems, supposedly, while the explorer Christopher Columbus was discovering new land he also discovered papayas’ potential to cure his crew’s digestive issues.
Facts about papayas
Today, this mildly sweet fruit with a soft, buttery, creamy mouthfeel brims with nourishing vitamins, minerals and health-protecting plant compounds. The papaya is the fruit of the Carica Papaya tree and is now cultivated in many tropical regions. Hawaii is the only state in the United States that grows papayas commercially.
The fruit is sometimes referred to as a ‘tree melon” and in Australia it is called Papaw or Paw Paw. There are two varieties of a papaya, Hawaiian and Mexican. Mexican papayas can weigh as much as ten pounds while the Hawaiian papaya will weigh in at about one pound. Hawaiian papayas are what are sold in grocery store produce aisles.
Generally, ripe papaya is eaten raw but they can add versatility to recipes and can be used in sauces, soups, or sorbets. Do eat the seeds as they are edible with a peppery flavor and a slight crunch. They make a perfect addition for adding flavor and texture to fruit salads and as a garnish.
Nutritional and health benefits of papayas
Papayas have an outstanding nutritional profile. One cup of papayas contains only 62 calories, almost no fat, no cholesterol, just 12 milligrams of sodium, 264 milligrams of potassium and 2.5 grams of fiber. This same one cup also provides 28% of the daily value for vitamin A and 147% of the daily value for vitamin C.
Just one look at the bright, rich orange color on the inside of a papaya and you know it contains beta carotene which our body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps keep our skin and mucus membranes, our immune system and our eyes healthy. Papayas also contain the antioxidant, zeaxanthin, which may help aid in eye health and prevent macular degeneration.
Papayas fiber content can aid in digestive health helping pull toxins and cholesterol from the body reducing heart disease. Fiber also keeps us feeling full providing satiety throughout the day preventing us from overeating. There is an enzyme called papain found in papayas that can also support digestion. Papain is very effective at breaking down meat and other proteins by speeding up its digestion. Papain may also help with the breakdown of other proteins such as the gluten found in wheat, barley and rye, and the casein in milk that can cause digestive problems for some people.
Vitamin C is particularly abundant in papayas. This water-soluble vitamin boosts immunity and can slow down aging of our skin while repairing tissues. According to a study published in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, antioxidant rich papayas may help improve aging skin. The study showed that fermented papaya preparation improved skin antioxidant capacity and signs of aging skin which included skin moisture, brown spots, and elasticity, more effectively when compared to a cocktail of antioxidants containing trans-resveratrol, vitamins C and E, and selenium.
This same antioxidant potential is being studied for its potential ability helping to control blood glucose in individuals with type 2 diabetes and to help fight inflammation and oxidation protecting against cancers.
Papayas are available year round but their peak season is in early summer and fall. When buying a papaya, a Hawaiian papaya is ripe when it is mostly yellow. Mexican papayas are ripe when they look green-yellow with shades of orange. Test their ripeness by pushing gently on the outside and if they give to gentle pressure, they should be ready to eat. Avoid papayas with any bruised or wrinkled areas. Papayas can be refrigerated for up to three days.
Enjoy papayas in the following ways:
· Drizzle cut up papaya pieces with lime or lemon juice
· Add papaya to salads for a pop of color or whirl into a smoothie
· Scoop out the seeds filling the hollow with yogurt topped with nuts or granola
· Use the seeds adding them to a salad or yogurt or blended into a smoothie
· Dice papayas and use them fruit salads, salsas, chilled soups or compote