Featured Ingredient – Papaya
I only recently learned to appreciate papaya, both for its sweet, musky flavor as well as its nutritional benefits, but now that I have, I plan to integrate it often into my recipe and meal planning. It is said that papaya, also known as paw paw was called the “fruit of angels” by Christopher Columbus. Though a tropical fruit and once considered exotic, it can now be found in grocery stores throughout the year.
Papayas are large, pear or spherical fruits that can grown as long as 20 inches in length, though smaller ones are more commonly sold in North American markets. The flesh of the papaya is orange and can be tinged with yellow or pink overtones. Inside the papaya, one finds black seeds that are enclosed in a jelly like substance. Though the seeds are considered edible, their flavor is peppery and a little bitter. Papayas are not only delicious, they are rich sources of antioxidant nutrients such as carotenes, vitamin C and flavonoids; the B vitamins, folate and pantothenic acid; and the minerals, potassium and magnesium; and fiber.
Some Health Benefits Of Eating Papaya
- Immune Support - Vitamin C and vitamin A, which is made in the body from the beta-carotene in papaya, are both needed for the proper function of a healthy immune system.
- Skin Protection – Ripe papaya is a great source of antioxidant vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene. The high levels of these valuable nutrients can help protect your skin against free radicals known to cause damage that leads to wrinkles and other visible signs of aging. The unique protein-digesting enzymes papain and chymopapain have both been shown to help lower inflammation and to improve healing from burns. Also interesting to note, is that the enzyme papain found in green papaya can reduce the itch and irritation caused by mosquito bites. Simply rub the bite with a small slice of the green fruit for relief.
- Eye Health – Along with its beta-carotene content that can be converted to vitamin A, which is so important to healthy eyes and vision, papaya also contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin, known as xanthophylls, are concentrated in the macular region of our eyes.
- Prevention Of Heart Disease – The high levels of vitamin C and vitamin E along with antioxidants like beta-carotene and lycopene in papaya can help reduce the oxidization of cholesterol in our arteries. Cholesterol oxidization is considered a dangerous process which potentially leads to arteries blocked with plaque that can result in heart attacks. Increasing your intake of these antioxidants from health foods like papaya is thought to help improve blood flow to the heart and reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
- Improve Digestion – The enzymes in papaya, and especially the green fruit, can improve digestion by breaking down proteins into their individual amino acids, while the ripe fruit is easily digestible and prevents constipation. Undigested proteins can lead to many health issues, such as gastrointestinal problems and an overgrowth of flatulence causing bacteria in the colon, and the proteolytic enzyme papain found in papaya is actually so good at breaking down proteins, it is used as a meat tenderizer commercially.
Buying & Storing
If you want to eat the papaya within a day or two of purchase, choose papayas that have reddish-orange skin and are slightly soft to the touch. Those that have patches of yellow color will take a few more days to ripen.
Green papayas should not be purchased, unless you are planning on cooking them, or unless you want to use green papayas in a cold dish like an Asian salad, as their flesh will not ripen easily and develop its characteristic sweet juicy flavor.
Avoid papayas that are bruised or overly soft.
Papayas that are partially yellow can be left at room temperature where they will ripen in a few days. If you want to speed this process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple. Ripe papayas should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within one or two days, so you can enjoy their maximum flavor.
For the most antioxidants, eat the papaya completely ripened.
How To Prepare
Slice the papaya in half, right down the middle of the fruit on a chopping board. The papaw should cut easily if it is ripe, so if you start cutting the papaya and it is difficult, then it’s not ready. You should cover the cut with some cling film and give it an extra day or two.
Once the papaya is split in half, you can scrape out the seeds with a large spoon. Papaya seeds are edible, with a crunchy texture and strong peppery taste and they have some amazing health benefits of their own. Either discard the seeds, or wrap and store in the refrigerator.
You can either use a peeler and remove the skin, or simply scoop the flesh out of the skin with a spoon. Once peeled, you can cut the flesh into pieces.
Eating papaya for breakfast is both a refreshing and cleansing way to start the day. Some people like a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice over it to add extra tanginess to its natural sweetness.
Papaya is also an excellent fruit to have for dessert after a big lunch or dinner, especially any meal with meat as the proteolytic enzymes within it help break down and digest proteins.
Recipes Using Papaya