Papaya (มะละกอ)

(Carica papaya)

Papaya has 2 stages of ripeness – unripe green fruit are used as a vegetable (f.e. in a salad) and sweet ripe papaya is eaten like a fruit. Botanically papaya fruit are berries, like watermelon.

Taste of papaya

Ripe papaya has distinct sweet taste without any hint of sour. The fruit smells a little bit like pumpkin. The consistence of flesh is juicy and very mild, like boiled carrot.

Unripe papaya is crispy like fresh carrots and has neutral, slightly sour taste.

There are different cultivars of papaya, so the skin color of fruit can vary from green to orange, while the flesh can be yellow, orange and even red. There’s no big difference in taste – the same sweetness and the same pumpkin smell. In Thailand the most common ripe papayas have orange flesh.

Beautiful papaya leaves
Decorative look of papaya trees always captures the attention, probably this is the reason why papaya trees are rather common everywhere in Thailand

How to choose, transport & store

Papaya fruit are relatively big and often weigh 1-2 kg and more. So if you have never tasted papaya, you’d rather buy it cut in portions.

When you choose a whole fruit, pay attention at the skin – there should be no dimples (usually dimples form over rotten areas). But if you’ve already bought papaya with dimples, you can easily cut them out: such fruit are generally overripe and very sweet, but it can’t be stored at all. So one should eat it the same day. Avoid buying fruit that have dimples covered with mold.

Dark green papayas, no matter how big they are, have only vegetable use.

Actually ripe papaya (even if you’ve bought a perfect one) can’t be stored for more than 1 week in a fridge.

Tender and soft skin of ripe papaya won’t save it from anything. In some Thai hypermarkets you may see papayas wrapped in foam net. If you want to bring it home, it’s the best option to protect tender fruit. Also ripe papaya should be transported in hand luggage only.

Sliced papaya and watermelon
Peeled cut fruits in Big C: watermelon and papaya

How to eat papaya

Ripe papaya (fruit)

Papaya can be compared to a melon: seeds and skin are inedible. The only difference is that papaya’s skin is soft. It means that there can be several ways, how to prepare the fruit for eating, f.e.:

  • Cut papaya in halves longwise, scrape seeds out and cut in pieces – now you can eat the flesh until you reach inedible skin.
  • Peel papaya (like one does it with potatoes), cut in halves longwise, get rid of seeds.

Note: don’t eat too much of papaya at first time. This fruit is good for health and digestion, but it has a little laxative effect (like plums do). Prior to buying papaya think of your plans for tomorrow – this effect can play a bad trick, if you intend to use f.e. intercity buses.

Papaya flowers
Papaya: little flowers, big fruit

Unripe papaya (vegetable)

Green papaya is the main ingredient of famous traditional Thai salad Som Tam – it is peeled and grated until one reaches seeds. Also unripe papaya can be cooked, f.e. it is one of ingredients of Kaeng Som (sour Thai curry with fish).

Papaya contains papain that works as meat tenderizer, if we speak of other culinary uses.

Papaya tree
Papaya is relatively small (3-10 m) and fast-growing tree (it fruits within 3 years)

When and where to find papaya

Papaya (both ripe and green) can be found in Thailand anywhere and all year round – it even doesn’t affect its price that starts from 20 THB per 1 kg. Often one can meet stalls with peeled papaya slices.

Last time I have been in Thailand, I have bought overripe papaya (~1-1,5 kg) only for 10 THB from locals. The family was selling fruit from their own garden – just a table with papayas and price. I highly recommend paying attention at such stalls next to the gate of private property – usually it’s a great deal: ripe fruits for very small price.

Seedless papaya
The papaya I’ve bought had also a nice surprise for me: there was only 1 seed inside instead of hundreds
Papaya trees in Silverlake vineyard
Papaya trees in Silverlake vineyard, Pattaya
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