[Pawpaw, Mamao, Lechoza, Carica papaya]
The only notable member of the family Caricaceae, the Papaya is of Central American origin, but now grown in tropical areas throughout the world. It is very distantly related to Cabbages, but is this plant a "branchless tree" or a giant herb? Technically it's an herb.
Unripe papayas are used in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam for their famous green papaya salads, and as a cooked vegetable in India and the Philippines. Ripe papayas are eaten as fruit and made into various fruit drinks and concoctions. They are used worldwide as meat tenderizer and digestive aid. In the photo are a medium size Mexican papaya (upper left, 10-1/2 x 5-3/4 inches 5-1/2 pounds), a typical Hawaiian papaya (lower right, 5-1/2 x 3-1/4 inches 1 pound) and an unripe "green" papaya cut in half (top right).
More on the Brassicales Family.
Hawaiian papayas have flesh that is sweeter, more delicately flavored, and lighter in color than Mexican papayas. On the other hand, the photo specimens were purchased for 2014 US $2.99 / pound for the Hawaiian, $0.69 / pound for the Mexican, and $1.49 / pound for the green.
Ripe papaya seeds have a spicy taste similar to a mild black pepper and are sometimes used as a substitute for that spice, or in India as an adulterant. Young papaya leaves are eaten like spinach in some tropical areas, but mature leaves have an effect on the heart similar to digitalis, though they can be cooked in several changes of water to remove this effect and their bitterness.
Buying: Ripe Hawaiian papayas are carried in many supermarkets, and Mexican papayas in ethnic markets serving Mexican, Central American, Caribbean, Southeast Asian and other communities of tropical Origin.
Unripe papayas can be found in markets serving a South or Southeast Asian community, particularly Filipino. Ideally, they should be completely white as in the photo above, though I've successfully used papayas with just a trace of pink blush around mostly black seeds.
Ripening & Storage: Papayas will continue to ripen if simply set out on a counter. Caution: the expensive Hawaiian, if just a little over-ripe, will start to get small depressions on the skin - but these go deep into the flesh. If you see any forming, it's time to eat them. Mexican papayas are less prone to this problem, but must still be watched for it. Unripe papayas can be stored in the refrigerator for even a couple of weeks - if cut, wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
Cooking: Green (unripe) papayas are widely used in curries in India, in stews and stir fries in the Philippines, and raw in the famous Green Papaya Salads of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. They are a good tropical substitute for potatoes in soups but should not be cooked too long. In the Philippines they are often cut into fine juliennes and pickled. Some recipes will be found on our Recipes by Ingredients page.
Subst: Chayote squash is considered the best substitute for Green Papaya, but will need just a little longer cooking time.Links