If you love the sweet, melon-like flavor of papaya, then you’ll love this guide. It includes tons of useful information for home cooks on how to pick a papaya, prepare it, and the best ways to eat it.
The creamy, sweet flesh of fresh papaya is a flavor that’s popular all across the world, my house included. It’s a tropical, exotic, and beautiful fruit that I love to experiment with in recipes like smoothies, when we’re not just eating chunks of it fresh.
But part of cooking with it is definitely understanding exactly how to pick a good papaya when I’m shopping. What to look for, how to ripen it, and how to store it, is essential knowledge that allows us to enjoy it for as long as possible.
Once home, I let the flavors inspire me by trying new recipes and learning about the way it’s used in different countries and cultures. It helps us discover the best ways to eat it, and I hope this guide will do the same for you.
What Is Papaya?
No one knows exactly where papaya comes from, it was already being cultivated and traded throughout South America when the Spanish explorers documented seeing it in the 1500’s.
Today it’s a popular fruit in tropical regions and produced by many countries like Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Hawaii, Indonesia, India, and Nigeria.
Most of what’s consumed in the US is grown in Hawaii and has a yellow orange rind. But there are actually tons of varieties that can look very different. From different countries you can find papayas with bright yellow to deep orange skin, ranging in sweetness and size from small to large ones that weigh several pounds.
The Flavor and Benefits
Fresh, ripe, papaya has a very sweet flavor similar to melons like cantaloupe or honeydew. The flesh is creamy and the seeds are crunchy, with a bit of a peppery bite. Green, or unripe, papaya can also be eaten but has a bitter flavor and can irritate your stomach if eaten raw, so it must be cooked first.
Like most fresh fruit, papaya is packed with tons of nutritional benefits like Vitamins A, C, and B, folate, potassium, and magnesium.
It’s important to mention that pregnant women should avoid eating green papaya. The flesh contains compounds which have been well-documented as the cause of sudden contractions.
How to Pick a Papaya
Choosing sweet and ripe papaya is pretty simple.
- When they begin to ripen, the rind changes from green to either pale yellow or orange.
- The texture is also important. They should be soft enough to give under a gentle squeeze, like a ripe peach or avocado.
- Finally, give it a sniff. It should have a sweet, fruity smell that makes you want to take a bite!
If you see any dark spots or feel anything squishy, they’re past their prime.
If all you can find are hard or green papayas, don’t worry. They ripen on the countertop really well. To speed it up you can tuck them into a paper bag and you’ll have a sweet, ripe papaya within a few days.
Once ripe, store them in the fridge to help them last as long as possible. They can keep for up to two or three weeks if kept dry and cool. If you’re storing already cut fruit, keep them in a bag or airtight container and use within a week.
How to Prepare a Papaya
Preparing fresh papaya is easy. Stand the papaya on one end and run a sharp knife down the sides to peel the skin away from the flesh. Discard the peel and you’ll be left with orange, sweet flesh and edible seeds.
It may be easier for you to first slice it open however. Cut it in half lengthwise and if desired remove the seeds. Then you can cut it into wedges, remove the peel, and finish chopping it as you like.
If you don’t want to waste the seeds, then don’t! They can be rinsed off, dried, and ground as a replacement for black pepper.
The Many Ways to Eat Papaya
When you’re ready to eat it, there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying pieces of sweet, creamy fruit just as they are, but there are lots of other ways to enjoy it too. One of the simplest is to try sprinkling lime juice and sugar or chili powder over the top.
The fresh, raw fruit can also be highlighted as a part of a dish too. In Brazil, it’s a mainstay in fruit salads and popular in juices when blended with sugar, water, and ice. It can be chopped into marinades or salsas, or pureed into sweet sauces for desserts.
One of my favorite ways to eat papaya is to blend it with other fruits into a refreshing smoothie. Try my papaya pineapple, papaya mango, or papaya banana smoothies for fun and different ways to highlight the flavor.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can definitely try cooking it too. It can be baked into desserts, stewed, sauteed, or stir-fried.
Really as long as you enjoy the process of trying out papaya in different ways, it’ll be a fun and delicious experiment. Follow my tips on how to pick a ripe papaya and enjoy discovering your favorite recipes. I hope this guide helps you choose the best ones every time and you find amazing ways to eat lots of this creamy, melt-in-your-mouth fruit.
Emma MurphyJanuary 30, 2023 at 7:21 pm
My doctor recommended me to eat papaya but I don’t like the taste so I did research on how to eat it by adding taste and just found your article. It’s really helpful, I just got an idea about adding lemon on papaya and will try it. Thanks Jovita!