Papaya fruit is a very large pear-shaped berry, 10-40 cm, depending on the variety. The papaya tree is in fact a giant herb giving a woody trunk and whose very large leaves are grouped only at the top. The flowers and fruits are found all year round, growing on the trunk. Originally from Central America, it has spread to all tropical countries. Its skin ribbed, thick enough is green or yellowish. It encloses a very fragrant, sweet, juicy and sweet orange flesh. In the center is a cavity with many small black seeds having a particularly pungent flavor.
The term “papaya” appeared in the language in 1579. It comes from papaya, a word belonging to the Caribbean spoken in the West Indies.
Unknown in the wild, Carica papaya is probably derived from a spontaneous crossing between two other native species. It would seem that it came from the lowlands of eastern Central America. The Amerindians would have introduced it to Mexico and South America. Its domestication and diffusion certainly occurred very long before the Age of Discovery, because when the Spaniards arrived, it occupied a region from Mexico to Panama and had many different types. The Spaniards and the Portuguese will introduce the papaya tree to the Philippines, India and parts of Africa. By the end of the seventeenth century it was cultivated in all the tropical regions of the world.
Some 50 countries produce papayas, the main one being Brazil, Nigeria, India, Mexico, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Congo, Peru, China and Colombia. In many places, in addition to the ripe fruit, we consume the immature fruit, the young leaves and the flowers. Other species of Carica are grown at high altitudes, where the common papaya tree cannot survive. Their fruits are generally unattractive in fresh condition and are mostly consumed cooked.
It is also cultivated for the production of papain, a proteolytic enzyme found in the latex of leaves, stems and fruit. This enzyme has many industrial uses: treatment of meat to soften it, clarification of juice and beer, extraction of tuna liver oil, treatment of silk and wool before dyeing, removal of hair on skins to tanner, preparation of creams for the face and cleaning creams, especially for contact lenses. In addition, medicine is used in the chymopapain, another enzyme derived from this plant.
Papaya health profile
The papaya is simply eaten fresh, or dried as a snack. Its small black seeds have a slightly peppery flavor. Rich in fiber, it is a highly vitamin fruit containing several antioxidant substances.
Benefits of papaya
Several prospective and epidemiological studies have shown high consumption of vegetables and fruit decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other chronic diseases1-2. The presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could play a role in these protective effects. Researchers have shown in vitro and among animals papaya juice has an antioxidant activity comparable to that of vitamin E, a well-known antioxidant. It is better to consume the ripe papaya if you want to make the most of its antioxidant potential.
Cancer. A study showed high consumption of vegetables and fruit, particularly papaya, watermelon and cantaloupe, was associated with a decrease in the breast cancer risk. Further research has shown consuming papaya at least once a week decreases the risk of cervical cancer among women with human papillomavirus (HPV).
What does papaya contain?
The main phenolic compounds (a large family of antioxidants) contained in papaya are catechins. High consumption of catechins is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Their health benefits have mainly been studied with green tea, which is known to be one of the best sources (it has a concentration at least 2 times higher in catechins than papaya). The specific effects of papaya catechins are not yet well known.
Papaya contains beta-cryptoxanthin, an antioxidant of the carotenoid family which gives fruit and vegetables a yellow or orange color. Papaya would be an important source of this carotenoid, which is a precursor of vitamin A. In other words the body transforms carotenoids into vitamin A according to its needs. In fact, regular papaya consumption could increase the blood concentration of beta-cryptoxanthin among humans. This carotenoid would also have an anticarcinogenic activity observed in vitro and among animals. It could also reduce the risk of atherosclerosis among humans.
The papaya also contains lycopene, another pigment in the family of carotenoids. The more mature the fruit, the more it contains a high amount of lycopene. Several studies have indicated an increased consumption of lycopene in foods reduces the risk of prostate cancer.
Fresh papaya and its juice would be better sources of bioavailable carotenoids than dried papaya. However, the dried papaya remains an interesting source of carotenoids.
Papaya is a source of dietary fibers (2.7 g of fiber for ½ fruit) and can help to satisfy the appetite by rapidly bringing a feeling of satiety. A dietary rich in fibers is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. It is recommended to consume 25 g of fiber per day for women aged 19 to 50, and 38 g per day for men in the same group age.
Papaya and anticoagulants
Papaya is one of the foods which can change the blood concentration of anticoagulants. Health authorities recommend people who take anticoagulants daily (Coumadin, Warfilone, Sintrom) not consume papaya in too high a quantity.
The allergy to papaya and latex
Latex, a plant substance used in particular for the manufacture of medical gloves, may be associated with allergy to certain foods, such as papaya. It is therefore recommended to people who are allergic to latex should carry out food allergy tests. Other foods considered potentially associated with latex allergy include avocado, banana, brown, kiwi, apricot, and passion fruit.
Choice and conservation
Papayas are found year round in supermarkets, since papaya grows continuously. The skin of the fruit should be orange or green with traces of yellow. It should show no signs of browning, be smooth and yield lightly under pressure. Avoid the completely green and hard fruit, which will not ripen well unless you want to cook them.
Dried papaya is also found, but it’s usually added sulfur dioxide and, possibly, sugar and a yellow dye. Look for organic sellers.
If the papaya is not perfectly ripe, keep it at room temperature until full maturity, and then place it in the refrigerator where it will be kept for a few days.