How To Eat Papaya, For The Uninitiated

Papaya, a nutritious tropical fruit native to Mexico and South America, is often overlooked outside of Thai, Asian, Caribbean, and Indian culinary contexts. Packed with significant health benefits, papaya is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. This versatile fruit can be enjoyed raw, baked, stir-fried, or sautéed, making it a delicious addition to diverse cuisines.

Also called pawpaws, papayas boast a texture similar to mangos and a flavor akin to cantaloupes or peaches. The fruit's flesh, which sweetens as it ripens, is often orange, but can also be yellow, red, or pink. Its skin turns from green to orange when ripe and, like an avocado, should indent slightly when pressed with your thumb. Filled with edible but bitter seeds (comparable to black peppercorns), papayas should only be consumed raw when ripe, as the unripe fruit contains high levels of papaya latex, which harbors an enzyme called papain. High levels of this enzyme can damage the esophagus, according to a study published in the National Library of Medicine.

There are several ways to cut and prepare papayas for smoothies, chutneys, salsas, and desserts. One of the easiest methods is to cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the black seeds. The seeds can be discarded or cleaned and saved for later use. The flesh can be eaten directly from the shell with a spoon, as demonstrated on TikTok by nutrition coach Ortal Bitton, or removed with a melon baller or knife. To enhance the flavor of the naked fruit, squeeze fresh lime juice and sprinkle sea salt to bring out its natural sweetness.

Peeling papaya

To remove the skin, hold the papaya vertically and run a knife or vegetable peeler down the sides. Avoid cutting too deeply, or you risk removing too much of the delicious flesh. Alternatively, TikTok's Munching with Mariyah hollows out ripe papaya, and then quarters the fruit lengthwise before removing the skin. With the flesh facing up, use a knife to separate the skin from each strip, similar to how you might cut a melon slice. Once peeled, the fruit can be cut into wedges, diced for salads and salsas, or used in a seasonal chutney paired with meat.

For the most control over your cuts, follow TikToker Ellie Lerma's lead and peel the whole papaya with a vegetable peeler before cutting. To avoid cutting yourself, grab a paper towel and peel the papaya in two stages. Peel half the papaya and then use the paper towel to prevent the fruit from slipping in your hand while you work on the other half. Slice off a small section from each end of the papaya, creating a flat surface for the fruit to safely stand upright. Then, cut it lengthwise into two halves. Proceed to remove the seeds and place the papaya halves cut-side down on your cutting board. Depending on the preferred serving size, slice the papaya's flesh vertically into even strips. With your free hand, gently hold these strips together. Then, make a series of evenly-spaced, horizontal cuts to yield chunks or diced pieces of papaya.

Papaya recipes

Uncut papayas should be stored at room temperature until ripened. Once ripe or cut, the fruit will last a few days covered in the refrigerator. To quickly ripen green papaya, add them to a paper bag with apples or bananas, as the ethylene released by the other fruit will speed up the process.

Papaya can be used as a substitute in any mango recipe, and it pairs well with hot chilis in Asian cuisine, balancing the heat from the compound capsaicin. Try Chrissy Teigen's Pounded Thai Papaya Salad for a sweet and spicy dish that combines jalapeño and Thai chilies with papaya, green beans, and tomatoes. The salad is flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar and is served with sticky rice and chopped peanuts for a beautiful combination of textures and flavors.

For an elevated way to serve papaya and other seasonal fruit with minimal effort, prepare Fresh Fruit Sticks With Lime And Chili Syrup. Just skewer chunks of chilled fruit and brush on homemade chili lime syrup before serving for a low-fat and refreshing appetizer or dessert.