Hey now, it’s nearly time for everyone to get excited and ready for the hot months of the year! That means vacation time gets set aside, shorts come out, and the food becomes more barbequey and “exotic.” Usually this means looking around for some fruits that you don’t normally see, like mangos, kiwis, or pineapple (how out there!), but there are others who prefer to go in a different direction and turn to the papaya. Fun to say, fun to eat, and fun to learn about (I’m sure), let’s spotlight the strange fruit from affair, the papaya!
Papaya History and Culture
Some days we have to look back millennia to find the origins of various fruits, but today is not that day. Rather, we need only search back to 1526 to find the first literary reference to papayas, coming from Spanish explorers in the Caribbean as well as Panama and Colombia. Apparently, the trees and their fruit proved to be rather resilient to all weather conditions, specifically with seeds being capable of lasting for up to three years in cold and dry conditions, meaning their inevitable spread was just waiting for some Spaniards to start the cycle going (cold and wet though, that can be a problem).
While the Spanish were the ones to travel back to Europe with the newly-discovered fruit, it was Native Americans who helped spread the trees further south. Eventually, papayas managed to get to Hawaii, which is the only state in the US that currently grows commercial papayas, though Florida had a little fling with the fruit in early 1900 until the papaya ringspot virus shut it down.
These days we need not worry as much about the papaya being decimated by virus yet again as genetic engineering has resulted in papaya that have natural immunities to the ringspot virus and other such problematic diseases that could affect the fruits. While not the most-grown fruit in the world, the papaya is still going strong in its own little section of the world, which just so happens to be Central and South America.
Health Benefits of Papayas
Who would be surprised to learn that papayas were high in vitamin C? Probably no one, but would you be shocked to learn that not only were papayas rich in vitamin C, they may just contain the most vitamin C out of all fruits? More than even the orange, papayas has over 100% of your daily recommended servings of vitamin C, meaning eating a single papaya is like doing extra credit work above and beyond the normal call of duty. And with all that extra vitamin C, your immune system should be feeling nice and boosted, wouldn’t you say?
But the papaya isn’t a one-trick pony. No sir! They also have a high content of vitamin A, B-1, B-6, and a handful of other excellent nutrients, riboflavin included (because who doesn’t like to say ‘riboflavin’?). They’re also filled with natural fiber, meaning a papaya a day keeps the proctologist away…or something like that. It’s not as glamorous as an apple, but hey it gets the job done!
However, there are a few allergic reactions that can occur with enough papaya usage, specifically if you happen to enjoy using papaya juice as hair conditioner. Doing so when the fruit isn’t completely ripe can actually cause an allergic reaction as it releases a latex fluid, oddly enough. Furthermore, the seeds, leaves, and fruit also contain carpaine, which works to remove parasitic worms from the body but can be toxic in high enough quantities, so be careful not to over-indulge too much. Also, there is some speculation that the latex previously mentioned from unripe papayas can cause uterine contractions and lead to miscarriages. Best to stay away from papayas while pregnant. On the positive side, you can get a mild case of carotenemia (yellowing of the soles and palms) if you eat enough papayas, though you’d have to make your daily intake pretty darn high.
Eating More Papayas
Here we are, the section telling you how to eat more papayas! You probably already know that I’m going to recommend just going out, snagging a nice ripe papaya, and just devour the thing. It’s very common to cut it into strips and eat it that way, and my wife has been a big fan of making trail mix that includes dried papaya, so that’s always a fun travel option as well.
You can put papaya into salads with other fruits or salads with other vegetables if that’s your thing, it makes a great addition to salsa (and salsa is typically everyone’s thing), plus it is routinely added to ice cream and desserts as well because, let’s not mince words here, anything can be added to ice cream and no one will complain. “Oh darn, I guess I needed to get out the ice cream so that I could enjoy a nice ripe papaya.” Yup, twisting your arm there.
As with any tropical fruit, they work great in the non-traditional foods as well, such as stir-fries, soups, and curries. Papaya just works great everywhere, so why not give it a try? And as a matter of principle, I need to hear some of your favorite papaya recipes or recommendations. How do you prefer to eat your papaya? Leave me a commend and let me know! I’m running out of ice cream and need other solutions for papaya consumption!