There are two types of papayas, Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian varieties are most common in the U.S. These pear-shaped fruit generally weigh about 1 pound and have yellow skin when ripe. The flesh is bright orange or pinkish, with small black seeds clustered in the center. Mexican papayas are much larger and may weigh up to 20 pounds and be more than 15 inches long. Their flesh may be yellow, orange or pink. The flavor is less intense than the Hawaiian papaya but still delicious. A properly ripened papaya is juicy, sweetish and somewhat like a cantaloupe in flavor, although musky in some types. The edible seeds (usually discarded) have a spicy flavor somewhat reminiscent of black pepper. The fruit (and leaves) contain papain which helps digestion and is used to tenderize meat. The greener the fruit the more active the papain. This unique quality makes it an excellent natural meat tenderizer.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Look for richly colored fruit that gives slightly to pressure.
How to store: Papayas are ready to be harvested when the skin is mostly yellow-green. After several days of ripening at room temperature, they will be almost fully yellow and slightly soft to the touch. Dark green fruit will not ripen properly off the tree, even though it may turn yellow on the outside. Mature fruit can be stored at 45°F for about 3 weeks.
How to prepare: Eat raw. Green papayas should not be eaten raw because of the latex they contain; although they are frequently boiled and eaten as a vegetable. In the West Indies, young leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach. In India, the seeds are sometimes used as an adulterant in whole black pepper.
Substitutions: 1 cup mango = 1 cup papaya