The papaya tree is fairly strange. In fact it is a giant grass that produces a woody trunk and with very large leaves that are found only at the top. Its flowers and fruit are present all year round and grow on the trunk.
It is probably native to eastern Central America, where it was cultivated early on by Native Americans, who are believed to have taken in to Mexico and South America. When the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, various species of papaya were cultivated from Mexico to Panama.
The tree then spread quickly as its seeds were scattered and planted everywhere by all the passing travelers and conquerors. Since the end of the 17th century, it has been found in all tropical countries of the world.
Natives Indians used grated papaya to tenderize meat, using the power of papain, an enzyme contained in all parts of the tree, which has the ability to break down fibers. The papaya tree is now also grown specifically for this papain, which is used in various industries.
Transgenic papaya varieties were created in the 90s to fight against a disease that devastated plantations in Hawaii, which poses its own problems of contamination with other trees. The sale of transgenic papayas is banned in Europe and Japan.
Papaya skin turns yellow as it ripens. When a third of the fruit is yellow, it is ripe and ready to be eaten.
A green papaya will easily ripen at room temperature in a few days.
In addition to fresh, papaya is also sold frozen, diced or mashed (sweetened), canned (chunks and pulp), dried cubes, and as juice.
Papaya is a wonderful addition to a fruit salad. It can be used to make pie, turned into ice cream or sorbet, and included in cakes.
It is a welcome ingredient in a vegetable or crab salad and in spring rolls. It can be used as a stuffing for chicken breasts.
Green papaya is cooked like a squash. Shredded and blanched, it can be added to salads, cooked in a gratin, or made into soup.
When ripe, a fresh papaya can be refrigerated for 2–3 days.
Frozen, it is stored in the freezer without breaking the cold chain.
Dried, it should be stored in a dry place in an airtight container.
Papaya is particularly rich in many antioxidant molecules: phenolic compounds, carotenoids, and lycopene. It is also high in fiber and minerals, and vitamins C, E, and B9.
This means that this fruit is particularly good for you. Powdered papaya extract used to be very fashionable, marketed as an anti-aging product, but it seems that it did not have the desired effect.
Papaya contains an enzyme, papain, which is widely used in the food and cosmetic industries.
There are many varieties of papaya, but only a few are sold in Europe: the Solo, with orange-yellow flesh, the Sunrise, and the Amazon red, which has almost red flesh.
They are sold throughout the year, mostly imported from the Ivory Coast and Brazil, although some come from Burundi, Mexico, and Jamaica. They are more common from November through March.
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