Papaya – named “Fruit of the Angels” by Christopher Colombus – is known by most people as a sweet orangy fruit. But in Thailand, and some of its neighboring countries, both green and orange papaya is consumed. Though very different in appearance, texture, and taste, they are actually the same fruit, just harvested at different stages of development.
The fruit is not native to Asia, but originates from South America and was brought to Asia by Spanish and Portuguese explorers. It was once considered a very rare, exotic fruit. But due to its popularity, it is now readily available all over the world most of the year.
There are several different sorts of papaya such as Mexican, Costa Rican, and Hawaiian. They vary in color, size, and shape, but since I am in Thailand, I will focus on the types that are available here.
The orange papaya can be eaten on its own as it is or sprinkled with some lime juice to balance the sweetness of the flesh. It also works great in salads, fruit salads or enjoyed in drinks such as smoothies or juices.
The black seeds of ripe papayas are also edible. It has a tart and peppery taste and can be ground and used as a substitute for pepper. This is not very common in Thailand, but more widespread in South America.
The firm white flesh of green papaya comes from the same fruit as orange papaya – it just hasn’t ripened. It is used similarly to a vegetable in savory dishes such as stews, curries, and salads. The unripe fruit has a mild flavor different from the tropical sweetness associated with the ripe. It is especially enjoyed for its crunchy texture, most notably as the shredded main ingredient in the famous Thai salad Som Tam, where it serves as an almost tasteless backdrop for stronger flavors such as chili, lime, garlic and fish sauce.
Green papaya and its latex are rich in enzymes which tenderize meat, so it is often used in meat dishes.
How to select a papaya:
- The fruit is ripe and ready for use when the skin is predominantly yellow to orange. If you want to eat it on the same day of purchase, choose papayas that have orange skin. Those that have patches of yellow color will take a few more days to ripen.
- Keep an eye out for cuts, bruises, soft spots, and mold. While a few marks or spots will not hurt, you don’t want a papaya that is overly bruised or soft.
- Press the papaya with your finger. A slight give……. means it is good. If it is too soft and mushy it is overripe and will taste cloyingly sweet.
- Smell the papaya – if it has a sweet smell, it is ripe. Papayas with no scent aren’t ripe yet. If it has a strong, sweet odor it’s overripe and is not as pleasing to eat.
- Select a very firm one.
- The papaya should be totally green with no patches of yellow color.
How to store a papaya:
Store papayas that are partially yellow in a dark spot out of the refrigerator to allow it to fully ripen. The fruit will ripen within a few days. Store only chill, when it is fully ripe. Serve within a day or two or its prime flavor will be lost.
Papayas will ripen more quickly if you place them in a paper bag with an apple or a banana. So if you are in urgent need of a ripe papaya, this will help speed up the process.
Cut it in half and clean the seeds out with a spoon.
You can then slice and eat it like a melon, or remove the skin with a vegetable peeler or knife, and cut the flesh into smaller pieces.
You don’t usually eat the peel.
It is fairly easy to grow papaya. The plant doesn’t require much care, and they grow quite fast. It prefers heat and sunshine to wind, cold and excessive rainfall (just like the rest of us! ). But in spite of these encouraging facts, I haven’t had much success trying to cultivate it!
My venture into papaya farming started one day as I was weeding my garden. I saw a small plant, that looked like a mini papaya. I decided to save it and see what would become of it. I gave it a better place in the garden and patiently waited for it to grow big. It was indeed a papaya, but to my disappointment, it never produced any fruits. On the other side of the fence in my neighbors garden, grew a large papaya with plenty of fruits on it, so I didn’t quite understand why I was unsuccessful. I consulted with a friend, who explained the reason was possibly, that I had a male plant! To produce fruits, I needed a female plant.
I wanted to give it another try, so I went to the flower market and bought 3 plants, clearly informing that I needed both male and female. Another round of waiting…. One plant produced a flower, which developed into a small fruit, but it was a sad specimen and not edible. That was the end of that!! I am now placing my bets on bananas instead.
I have since learned, that papaya plants grow in three sexes: male, female, and hermaphrodite. The male produces only pollen, the female produces inedible fruits unless pollinated, but the hermaphrodites can self-pollinate. This is due to the fact, that hermaphrodite’s flowers contain both male stamens and female ovaries. So hermaphrodites are the way to go! Almost all commercial papaya orchards contain only hermaphrodites.
If you want to give papaya farming a try and manage to succeed, you can enjoy a steady supply of papayas as the plant produces fruit all year round.
The above picture is from an orchard near Sisaket in the Isan province or Northeastern Thailand. Green papaya is a stable in the households in this area.
Please add a comment below, if you have any papaya tips or questions.