[caption id="attachment_4794" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Papaya"]Papaya[/caption]

Papaya is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya in the Carica genus. Native to the tropics of the Americas and was first cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classic cultures.

Papayas are spherical or pear in shaped fruits that can be as long as 20 inches. The ones commonly found in the market are usually about 7 inches and weigh about one pound. Their flesh is a rich orange color with either yellow or pink hues. Papaya has a wonderfully soft, butter-like consistency and deliciously sweet, musky taste. The inner cavity of the fruit has black, round seeds encased in a gelatinous-like substance. Papaya's seeds are edible, although their peppery flavor is somewhat bitter.

The fruit and the other parts of the papaya tree, contain papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins. This enzyme is especially concentrated in the fruit when it is unripe. Papain is extracted to make digestive enzyme dietary supplements and is also used as an ingredient in some chewing gums. Papain is a protease which is useful in tenderizing meat and other proteins. It has the ability to break down tough meat fibers were used for thousands of years by indigenous Americans. It is included as a component in powdered meat tenderizers. Papaya was respectably called the ‘fruit of the angels’ by Christopher Columbus. This fruit was once considered an exotic fruit but now is available right through the year although there is a slight seasonal peak in early summer and fall.

Papayas were native to Central America and have been long distinguished by the Latin American Indians. Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought papayas to many other subtropical lands to which they journeyed to India, the Philippines, and parts of Africa. In the 20th century, papayas were brought to the United States and have been cultivated in Hawaii, the major U.S. producer since the 1920s. Today, the largest commercial producers of papayas include the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Papayas can be used as a food, in cooking and medicine. The stem and bark are also used in rope production. The ripe fruit can be eaten just like that without the skin or seeds and the unripe green papaya are usually used in preparing curries, salads and stews. The unripe green papaya is also used as a tenderizer to cook meat dishes. As the papaya has a relatively high amount of pectin, they can be used to make jellies.

Normally the papaya is a short-lived, fast-growing, woody, large herb to 10 or 12 feet in height. It generally branches only when injured. All parts contain latex. The hollow green or deep purple trunk is straight and cylindrical with prominent leaf scars. Its diameter may be from 2 or 3 inches to over a foot at the base. Papayas have challenging climate requirements for vigorous growth and fruit production. They must have warmth throughout the year and will be damaged by light frosts. There are two types of papaya fruits namely the Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian varieties are the papayas commonly found in supermarkets. These pear-shaped fruit generally weigh about 1 pound and have yellow skin when ripe. The flesh is bright orange or pinkish, depending on variety, with small black seeds clustered in the center. Hawaiian papayas are easier to harvest because the plants rarely grow taller than 8 feet. Mexican papayas are much larger then the Hawaiian types and may weigh up to 10 pounds and be more than 15 inches long. The flesh may be yellow, orange or pink. The flavor is less intense than that the Hawaiian papaya but still is delicious and extremely pleasurable. They are slightly easier to grow than Hawaiian papayas. A properly ripened papaya is juicy, sweetish and somewhat like a cantaloupe in flavor, although musky in some types. The fruit (and leaves) contain papain which helps digestion and is used to tenderize meat. The edible seeds have a spicy flavor somewhat redolent of black pepper.

Green papaya is used as a folk remedy for contraception and abortion by Women in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other countries. Enslaved women in the West Indies were noted for consuming papaya to prevent pregnancies and thus preventing their children from being born into slavery. Unripe papaya is especially effective in large amounts or high doses. Ripe papaya is not teratogenic and will not cause miscarriage in small amounts. Papaya is frequently used as a hair conditioner, but should be used in small amounts. Papaya releases a latex fluid when not quite ripe, which can cause irritation and provoke allergic reaction in some people.

Papaya is considered a powerhouse of nutrients. It has many health benefits and nutrition experts advocate generous intake of fruits for optimum health as these food items are loaded with all the benefits. Fruits are goldmine of vitamins, minerals and fibre and are ideal to consume at least 4-5 servings in a day. Since they are in the natural form, account for largest part of water and 100% bad cholesterol free, it’s much easier for the body to process and absorb the vitamins and minerals from the fresh fruit.

Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables contain capricious amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin C as well as carotenoids and bioflavonoids. “Papaya” is recommended to be one such select from the group of Yellow and orange fruits, which promises copious health benefits. Papaya has high nutritional benefits. It is rich in Anti-oxidants, the B vitamins, folate and pantothenic acid; and the minerals, potassium, magnesium and fiber. Together, these nutrients promote the health of the cardiovascular system and also provide protection against colon cancer. In addition, 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. Papaya may therefore be a healthy fruit and an excellent choice for preventing illnesses like recurrent ear infections, colds and flu. Papaya is also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin E, vitamin A and vitamin K.

The nutritional values per 100 g of raw papaya are:

Energy: 163 kJ (39 kcal)

Carbohydrates: 9.81 g

Sugars: 5.90 g

Dietary fibre: 1.8 g

Fat: 0.14 g

Protein: 0.61 g

Vitamin A: 328 μg

Vitamin C: 61.8 mg

Calcium: 24 mg

Potassium: 257 mg

Magnesium: 10 mg

Phosphorus: 5 mg