Exotic Fruits 101: All About Papaya

  • Vanessa CrowleBachelor of Science - BSc Biomedical Science, Anglia Ruskin University, England

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In “Exotic Fruits 101: All About Papaya, you’ll unravel the tropical charm of papayas, from their cultural significance to their nutritional values.1 Delve into folklore, explore diverse recipes, and discover the nutritional richness that makes the papaya a unique addition to your diet. Get ready to explore the extraordinary world of exotic fruits and embark on a delightful journey of delicious flavours! 

This article is your comprehensive guide to understanding the tropical marvel of papayas. This exploration explores the delicious taste, cultural significance and folklore, as well as the nutritional benefits of papayas. From the symbolic representation of abundance in various cultures to its nickname as the ‘fruit of the angels’, the papaya captivates both the imagination and the taste buds.

Dive into this guide to uncover cultural stories, delicious recipes, and the various health advantages that make papayas a standout addition to your everyday diet. Whether you're a curious newcomer in the world of exotic fruits or a seasoned food enthusiast, through this guide you can embrace to exotic allure of the papaya and embark on a flavourful journey into the world of exotic fruits.

Papaya basics

Definition and origin

Papaya, otherwise known as the “fruit of the angels”, is a tropical exotic fruit with its vibrant colour and unique sweetness.1 The papaya is a pear-shaped fruit that comes from the Carica papaya plant, which is native to Southern Mexico and Central America.2 This exotic fruit has a rich history and is believed to have been cultivated for centuries not just for its delicious taste but its vast array of medicinal properties.3

The smooth, orange skin and delicious orange-pink flesh filled with black seeds, is not only a tropical delight but also a nutritional powerhouse.4 The global popularity of papaya proves a testament to the wonders that tropical exotic fruits have to offer. 

Common varieties

The papaya comes in many different flavours, shapes and sizes, with a range of common varieties that cater to all. One common variety is the Solo papaya, which is known for its vibrant orange colour, sweet taste and small size.5 On the other hand, Maradol papayas have more of an elongated shape and are often larger, providing a balance between sweetness and a hint of tanginess.6

Furthermore, another popular variety is the Sunrise papaya, which has a yellowish skin with reddish-orange flesh, often prized for its unique flavour.7 The range of common varieties highlights the versatility of papaya, making it accessible to a wide range of taste preferences and culinary applications. Whether you prefer the distinctive flavour of Sunrise, the balance of Maradol, or the sweetness of Solo, the papaya provides a delightful spectrum of choices to suit all taste buds. 

Nutritional highlights

Overview of key nutrients

The papaya is not only known for its delicious tropical taste, it also packs a nutritional punch, providing a bounty of essential nutrients. Most notably, papaya is rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant which not only promotes healthy skin but supports a robust immune system.8

Furthermore, this exotic fruit also contains large amounts of vitamin A which is essential in maintaining skin health and good vision.8 Papaya also provides a high dose of folate, crucial for DNA synthesis and cell division.9 This exotic fruit is free from cholesterol and low in calories, making it the perfect guilt-free indulgence.3

The presence of dietary fibre within papaya aids digestion, supporting gut health.3 This tropical exotic fruit is not just a delicious and flavourful addition to your diet; it's a nutritional powerhouse that contributes to your overall well-being in an accessible and delicious way.

Health benefits

Beyond its delicious taste and key nutrients, papaya provides a range of health benefits, making it a valuable addition to your diet. Papaya is rich in anti-inflammatory properties that aid in reducing inflammation and easing discomfort.10 Additionally, the enzymes that are present in papaya (for example papain), aid in promoting better nutrient absorption.11

The digestive-friendly qualities of the papaya come from its fibre content, which not only promotes smooth digestion but also helps to prevent digestive issues, such as constipation.3 With its mix of enzymes, fibre, and vitamins, papaya isn't just a delicious tropical delight - it's a natural source of wellness that supports your overall health in a variety of ways.

Selecting and storing papaya

How to choose ripe papaya

Choosing the perfect ripe papaya involves a few crucial yet simple steps to ensure that you enjoy the fruit when it reaches its peak ripeness. The key to choosing the perfect papaya starts by looking at the skin, a ripe papaya has a vibrant orange colour, and green patches are an indication that the fruit is still maturing.12 Additionally, it is important to feel the texture of the papaya - gentle pressure should slightly yield, indicating ripeness, whereas fruits with overly wrinkled skin and soft spots should be avoided.12

Another helpful tip is to check the aroma of the fruit, a ripe papaya has a fruity, sweet fragrance near the stem.12 Remember that papayas can ripen quickly, so keep a close eye on them to enjoy the fruit at its best.

Tips for proper storage

To preserve the flavour and freshness of your papaya the key is proper storage. After choosing your perfect papaya, you can extend its freshness by storing it in the refrigerator.13 However, it is best to keep it at room temperature if the papaya is not yet fully ripe. Once the papaya is ripe, the refrigerator slows down the ripening process, maintaining the fruit's optimal texture and taste.13

If you have already consumed part of the papaya and have leftovers, it is important to store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.13 It is important to remember to consume the leftover papaya within a few days to enjoy it at its best. Following these simple yet effective storage tips, ensures that your papayas stay delicious and fresh for as long as possible. 

Culinary delights

Fresh consumption tips

To unlock the full culinary delight of papaya, here are some simple tips for fresh consumption to enhance your experience:

  • Enjoy it fresh: Remove the seeds, and slice the papaya into bite-sized pieces, to enjoy it as a refreshing yet healthy snack
  • Add some citrus: You can enhance the flavour of papaya by adding a bit of lemon or lime juice over the papaya
  • Pair with other fruits: You can combine papaya with additional complementary fruits, such as berries, pineapple, or mango to make a delicious fruit salad
  • Top-off breakfast: When enjoying your morning cereal or oatmeal, sprinkle papaya chunks for a burst of sweetness
  • Create a tropical smoothie: Combine the papaya with coconut water, yoghurt and banana for a nutritious and tropical smoothie

These simple tips will improve your papaya experience, making it a delicious and versatile addition to your daily meals.

Growing tour own papaya

With the right care and conditions, growing your own papaya can be a delicious and rewarding endeavour. It is essential to plant papaya in an area that receives a lot of sunlight, as papayas thrive in tropical climates.14 Ensure the area is sheltered from strong winds as well as choosing a well-draining soil.

When growing your own papaya you can either place the seeds directly in the ground or start with a young papaya plant, it is important to water regularly to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.14 To promote healthy growth it is important to fertilise the papaya plant every few months with a balanced fertiliser.14 Additionally, pruning your papaya plant should be kept to a minimum, mainly focusing on damaged or dead leaves.

Furthermore, keep an eye out for diseases or pests and address any issues promptly to avoid long-lasting damage.14 With these few simple steps, you can enjoy the delightful experience of harvesting your own flavourful and fresh papayas. 

Troubleshooting papaya issues

When growing your own papaya it’s important to be aware of common diseases and pests to ensure a healthy harvest. Keep an eye out for signs of diseases such as papaya ringspot virus, black spot disease, or powdery mildew, and quickly remove any affected plants to prevent potential further spread.5 Common pests, such as fruit flies and aphids, can be tackled with either neem oil or insecticidal soap.15

To help maintain the overall health of your papaya plant, avoid overwatering to prevent root rot, and provide adequate spacing between papaya plants for good air circulation.14 Additionally, it is important to regularly inspect leaves for unusual spots or discolouration, as well as take swift action to address issues once they arise.14 These simple yet effective troubleshooting steps can help you maintain a thriving papaya plant and enjoy your homegrown papayas. 

Fun facts and cultural significance

Papayas are more than just delicious, flavourful fruit; they come with fascinating fun facts and cultural significance. Papayas are rich in vitamin C and hence were believed to have healing properties by many ancient civilisations.16 Additionally, in many cultures, the papaya tree is considered a symbol of abundance and life.

Furthermore, in Hawaiian folklore, the papaya tree is considered a symbol of the goddess Laka, as well as in some Asian traditions, papayas are believed to bring good fortune. The papaya, embraced in various traditions, holds a unique place beyond its delicious taste, adding a hint of cultural charm to its already impressive profile. 

Summary

In conclusion, papayas are a flavourful and delicious addition to the world of exotic fruits, offering not only a tropical and sweet taste but also a wide range of health benefits. From their cultural significance to the intriguing folklore surrounding the papaya plant, the papaya fruit captivates both the imagination and the taste buds.

As you explore the diverse range of exotic fruits, let the papaya be a starting point for embracing these tropical, delicious flavours. Whether you are enjoying it fresh, or incorporating it into various dishes, the papaya can be enjoyed in many different ways, making it a healthy yet delicious addition to your diet. 

References

  1. Kaur M, Talniya NC, Sahrawat S, Kumar A, Stashenko EE. Ethnomedicinal uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology of carica papaya plant: a compendious review. MROC [Internet]. 2019 Jun 21 [cited 2023 Nov 30];16(5):463–80. Available from: http://www.eurekaselect.com/164687/article
  2. Saeed F, Arshad MU, Pasha I, Naz R, Batool R, Khan AA, et al. Nutritional and phyto-therapeutic potential of papaya (carica papaya linn. ): an overview. International Journal of Food Properties [Internet]. 2014 Aug 9 [cited 2023 Nov 30];17(7):1637–53. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10942912.2012.709210
  3. Jayathunge KGLR, Gunawardhana DKSN, Illeperuma DCK, Chandrajith UG, Thilakarathne BMKS, Fernando MD, et al. Physico-chemical and sensory quality of fresh cut papaya (Carica papaya) packaged in micro-perforated polyvinyl chloride containers. J Food Sci Technol [Internet]. 2014 Dec 1 [cited 2023 Nov 30];51(12):3918–25. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-013-0952-8
  4. Singh SP, Sudhakar Rao DV. 6 - papaya(Carica papaya L.). In: Yahia EM, editor. Postharvest Biology and Technology of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits [Internet]. Woodhead Publishing; 2011 [cited 2023 Nov 30]. p. 86–126e. (Woodhead Publishing Series in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition). Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780857090904500068
  5. Ruiz-Gil PJ, Wegier A, Alavez V, Rosas-Plaza S, Núñez-Farfán J, Chávez-Pesqueira M. Wild papaya shows evidence of gene flow from domesticated Maradol papaya in Mexico. Genet Resour Crop Evol [Internet]. 2023 Dec 1 [cited 2023 Nov 30];70(8):2391–410. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10722-023-01568-x
  6. Hardisson A, Rubio C, Baez A, Martin MM, Alvarez R. Mineral composition of the papaya (Carica papaya variety sunrise) from Tenerife island. Eur Food Res Technol [Internet]. 2001 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Nov 30];212(2):175–81. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s002170000214
  7. Wall MM. Ascorbic acid, vitamin A, and mineral composition of banana (Musa sp.) and papaya (Carica papaya) cultivars grown in Hawaii. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis [Internet]. 2006 Aug 1 [cited 2023 Nov 30];19(5):434–45. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S088915750600007X
  8. Ramos-Parra PA, García-Salinas C, Hernández-Brenes C, Díaz De La Garza RI. Folate levels and polyglutamylation profiles of papaya (Carica papaya cv. Maradol) during fruit development and ripening. J Agric Food Chem [Internet]. 2013 Apr 24 [cited 2023 Nov 30];61(16):3949–56. Available from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf305364x
  9. Pandey S, Cabot PJ, Shaw PN, Hewavitharana AK. Anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of Carica papaya. Journal of Immunotoxicology [Internet]. 2016 Jul 3 [cited 2023 Nov 30];13(4):590–602. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/1547691X.2016.1149528
  10. Ayodipupo Babalola B, Ifeolu Akinwande A, Otunba AA, Ebenezer Adebami G, Babalola O, Nwufo C. Therapeutic benefits of Carica papaya: A review on its pharmacological activities and characterization of papain. Arabian Journal of Chemistry [Internet]. 2024 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Nov 30];17(1):105369. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878535223008316
  11. M. U. Reyes, R. E. Paull, M. R. Williamson, L. D. Gautz. Ripeness determination of solo papaya (Carica papaya L.) by impact force. Applied Engineering in Agriculture [Internet]. 1996 [cited 2023 Nov 30];12(6):703–8. Available from: http://elibrary.asabe.org/abstract.asp??JID=3&AID=25701&CID=aeaj1996&v=12&i=6&T=1
  12. Alam MS, Kaur B, Gupta K, Kumar S. Studies on refrigerated storage of minimally processed papaya(Carica papaya L.). Agricultural Engineering International: CIGR Journal [Internet]. 2013 Nov 27 [cited 2023 Nov 30];15(4):275–80. Available from: https://cigrjournal.org/index.php/Ejounral/article/view/2611
  13. Kalleshwaraswamy CM, Kumar NKK. Transmission efficiency of papaya ringspot virus by three aphid species. Phytopathology® [Internet]. 2008 May [cited 2023 Nov 30];98(5):541–6. Available from: https://apsjournals.apsnet.org/doi/10.1094/PHYTO-98-5-0541
  14. Leitão M, Ribeiro T, García PA, Barreiros L, Correia P. Benefits of fermented papaya in human health. Foods [Internet]. 2022 Feb 16 [cited 2023 Nov 30];11(4):563. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8870802/
  15. Ikram EHK, Stanley R, Netzel M, Fanning K. Phytochemicals of papaya and its traditional health and culinary uses – A review. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis [Internet]. 2015 Aug 1 [cited 2023 Nov 30];41:201–11. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S088915751500085X
  16. Cook I. Follow the thing: papaya. Antipode [Internet]. 2004 Sep [cited 2023 Nov 30];36(4):642–64. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2004.00441.x

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Vanessa Crowle

Bachelor of Science - BSc Biomedical Science, Anglia Ruskin University, England

Vanessa is currently a masters student, completing her master’s degree in medical microbiology, alongside working as an experienced medical writer intern.

Vanessa’s master’s course focused on key areas of microbiology, with a central focus on patient diagnosis. Her research specialises in breast cancer treatment and antibiotic resistance and she looks forward to writing more about life and health sciences to help deliver knowledge to the general public.

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