Originally native to the warmer climates of Mexico and Central America, the juicy papaya can now be found in tropical countries all over the world. The bright orange hue of the flesh comes from the antioxidant lycopene, also found in tomatoes and watermelon, which is currently being studied for its potential cardiovascular benefits.
Papayas are packed with other vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, C, and folate, all nutrients essential for their roles in supporting our immune system and heart health. Papayas are also a source of the enzyme papain which is used in natural medicine to promote digestive health.
Papaya can make a delicious addition to the 4-5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by the American Heart Association. Papaya is available year-round, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Some brands add sugar to the papaya when drying, so be sure to check the ingredients when purchasing.
Fresh papaya can range in size from small to very large fruits that may weigh over five pounds. Check to make sure that there are no blemishes on the skin, gently press to check for ripeness. Ripe papaya should give slightly, and have deep, rich orange flesh similar in color to that of a cantaloupe, with a light, sweet aroma.
Freshly cut and covered papaya will keep for up to three days in the fridge.
Enjoy papaya on its own for breakfast, spritzed with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, or added to a tropical fruit salad. In both Thai and Indian cooking, green papaya is the main ingredient in many savory salads. Papaya seeds are edible too so don’t throw them out! They have a hot peppery taste and can be added to dressings or marinades to give them a mustard-like flavor.