Lusciously sweet and silky, Christopher Columbus called papayas "the food of the angels." Completely ripe fruits are best for eating fresh, while slightly green ones can be cooked just like a vegetable.
With the color and taste of the tropics, papayas are round or pear-shaped fruits with orange-yellow or orange-pink skins. Inside, the inner cavity contains peppery, edible seeds surrounded by lusciously sweet, silky flesh. Once considered quite exotic, papayas can now be found in markets throughout the year. They're wonderful for eating fresh, adding to mango salads and mango salsas and cooking or grilling.
This luscious fruit was called "food of the angels" by Christopher Columbus when he discovered it in the Caribbean. Throughout history, the papaya has been used to clean and soften the skin, ease digestion and tenderize meat.
The variety most widely available in the United States is the Solo, which is grown in Hawaii and Florida. Large and pear-shaped, it has a golden-yellow skin when ripe. The flesh is juicy and silky, with a sweet-tart flavor.
Though confusing, papayas are sometimes referred to as pawpaw, but they are entirely different from a similarly named fruit, papaw. Papaws look more like fat, brown bananas and they are seldom cultivated or sold in markets.
Dried papaya (usually treated with sulfur dioxide to help retain color) is available in slices and makes a great sweet snack. Papaya juice is also sold at many supermarkets and natural food stores.
Although there is a slight seasonal peak in early summer and fall, papayas can be found in markets year-round. Look for richly colored fruits that give slightly to pressure.
Refrigerate completely ripe papayas in a plastic bag for up to one week. Slightly green papayas will ripen quickly at room temperature, especially if placed in a pierced paper bag with an apple.
• Peel the papaya, then cut in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.
• Instead of discarding the seeds, blend them with your favorite vinaigrette for peppery flavor.
• For extra zest, sprinkle papaya with fresh lime juice.