Papaya is a fruit when ripe but we use it as vegetable when it still green. It is the main ingredient in our native dish called chicken “tinola”, a type of chicken soup flavored with ginger, lemon grass, garlic and onion. The leaves of the “malunggay” or horseradish tree is also an essential ingredient for this soup, but you can substitute spinach if “malunggay”is not available in your area. We also use the green papaya in the pickle we call “achara” from the Indian word achar. The fruit is cleaned, peeled and seeded before grating. And then mix in with vinegar seasoned with salt and pepper, sugar, garlic, onion and ginger. Some cooks mix raisins and red bell peppers as a garnish. In Thailand however, they make green papaya salad which is just a mixture of papaya, lime juice, tomatoes, hot peppers and season with patis (nampla) or fish sauce.
The papaya tree grows straight upright and have indented leaves that spread out like big fans. The stems of the leaves are hollow. When you open up a green papaya, the seeds will be white (black when it is ripe). It will also have a milky sap which can irritate a sensitive skin.
The papaya tree grow rapidly from seeds up to 15 ft. tall. It needs full sun and constant, even moisture. The fruits will form after the white flowers are pollinated. In the Philippines, they say you have to plant one male and one female plant close together in order to ensure the pollinating process. In Hawaii though, they have a variety called “solo” papaya because it will bear fruit by itself. The “sunrise” papaya, I believe, is much sweeter and have a distinctive deeper orange colored flesh. Good for making smoothies and tropical fruit salads.
Our native papaya fruit is quite bigger than the ones produced in Hawaii, about 1 to 2 ft. long and will weigh about 3 to 8 pounds when fully mature.
Do you know that the black seeds of the papaya can be dried and used as peppercorns?
Papaya fruit contains enzyme called papain and aids in digestion. It is also used as a meat tenderizer. A lot of cosmetic companies are also using papaya as an important ingredient for making skin smoother.
Papaya is also an excellent source of vitamins C and A, potassium, folate or folic acid and also provides fiber.