While many people don’t really even know what a papaya is, others are using it as a way to get healthy and stay healthy and can aid digestion, it is a good source of dietary fiber, and helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer, and eases irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual pain, and helps a hundred and one other diseases and ailments.
That’s why it’s important to take a look at the papaya from its history and origin to the benefits and even risks of adding it to your diet. Not everyone reacts to a new fruit the same, after all, so just what can it mean for you? Throughout this article, we’re going to discuss everything we possibly can to help you better understand this papaya fruit and why you’ll want it for yourself.
Origin and Distribution
The papaya tree is actually native to the tropic regions of the Americas, though it’s believed to have grown naturally in southern Mexico and parts of Central America as well (Papaya, Wikipedia). As far as cultivating goes, however, it started out in many areas of Mexico long before it started to emerge anywhere else.
Other parts of the world, like the Caribbean Islands, Florida and many countries throughout Africa have managed to naturalize the fruit and other areas, like India, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hawaii have been able to grow it even without problems (Papaya, Wikipedia).
What is a Papaya?
The trees that papaya fruit grows on are quite small and have very sparse branches, with one single stem. The stem may be between 16 and 33 feet tall and will have spiraled leaves near the top of the trunk. Anywhere that used to have leaves or fruit will have scars over the trunk. You’ll notice large leaves, up to 28” across, with seven large, deep lobes. A dioecious tree, which is unusual for such a large plant, they have both male and female versions that are (with some exception) required for pollination and reproduction.
A male papaya tree will produce five parted, dimorphic flowers with stamens connected to those petals while a female version will have five contorted petals with a loose connection to the base. Male versions will also have far more flowers than the female counterpart but those flowers will smell sweet on either version. They also open up at night to be pollinated by moths. When it comes time for fruit, the male version does not produce any and the female version must be pollinated to produce anything edible.
The fruit itself is actually considered a berry, though it’s definitely a large one. It can range anywhere from 5.9” – 17.7” long and up to 11.8” in diameter. When it turns soft and looks amber or even orange in color it’s ready to be picked and eaten. The inside will be fleshy and sweet and the fruit itself will actually be filled with seeds on the inside which can easily be scraped out. Somewhat oblong in shape, there are actually several different varieties of the papaya just as you’ll find with most other fruits depending on where they are grown.
Primarily there are two versions. The first is a red papaya (at least in Australia) and features a sweet flesh that’s red or orange on the inside. On the other hand, the second variety, the yellow papaw, is yellow on the inside. In other parts of the world, you may find a larger papaya that is red on the inside and known as Meadow, Sunrise or Caribbean Red. These are grown throughout the Belize and Mexico regions and are commonly sold throughout the United States. Most people prefer the ripe papaya. However, if you pick a papaya before it’s fully ripe, it’s still technically a salable fruit and is called a green papaya.
A papaya that comes from a pollinated female plant will be quite round or oval in shape. It will then have very thin walls around the outside of the flesh. On the other hand, a papaya from a hermaphrodite plant will have a cylindrical shape and generally a very small seed cavity in the center. These plants also have a thicker outside wall, which makes them easier to ship because of a decreased risk of damage in transit (Papaya, Wikipedia).
The Growing and Cultivation of the Papaya
When it comes to actually growing papayas that produce fruit, there are three different versions of the plants themselves. The male version of the plant produces the pollen necessary for the female version to produce an edible fruit. Without pollination, the female version creates fruit, but it’s entirely inedible. But the third version is actually the solution to the problem of pollination. It’s a hermaphrodite version that actually produces its own pollen and pollinates itself. Therefore, it’s able to create fruit without needing any additional trees.
Because the hermaphrodite version of this plant pollinates itself and grows its own fruit, it’s the least labor-intensive and least space intensive version. That means it’s the one that’s actually most desired by commercial growers and orchards. After all, they want to do the least amount of work necessary to get the fruit. The less work they have to do on that tree in the first place, the more time they can devote to other things that can’t be rushed or done by nature. So, the trees that are most cultivated and transplanted are the ones that are capable of making all the fruit themselves and continuing without input.
Conditions for Growth of the Papaya
When it comes to truly cultivating the plants, however, it’s important to have all of the right conditions, as they can be sensitive. Any area will-will be too cold for the plants to grow, as they’re extremely sensitive. If the temperature falls below 29°F, they will definitely suffer, and they may even die off entirely, which is why they’re grown exclusively in tropical regions.
Even in warmer climates, such as Florida and California, the plants have to be kept to the southern regions as this provides a better temperature for them to grow. The best temperatures are located between 32° north and 32° south of the Equator. A high amount of rain is extremely important, but you need to have a lot of great drainages as well. Too much rain standing around the base of the plant for 24 – 48 hours can be fatal. As a result, sandy soil can be a great benefit or something light and porous with plenty of organic matter.
Still, it can grow in some different types of soil from sacrificed limestone and marl to some different soils. As long as the pH is between 5.5 and 6.7 it should be just fine, while too much richness to the soil can result in a large number of fruits, but not good quality. A balanced amount of richness, acidity, and water in the soil is important to get high-quality fruit.
Distribution of the Papaya
When it comes to passing that papaya around the world, however, it’s actually a long and complex story. It’s believed that Spaniards brought the seeds from Mexico and Central America into Panama, the Dominican Republic, other parts of Central America and Mexico, the West Indies, the Bahamas, and even Bermuda between 1525 and 1616(Papaya, Hort). They were also taken to areas of the Philippines, Malacca, India, and Naples through the year 1626(Papaya, Hort). At this point, they were spread throughout other parts of the world and began to bloom in all tropical areas.
It was somewhere around the 1950s that Albert Santo, an Italian entrepreneur, decided to import papayas to Miami, getting them by plane from areas like Santa Marta, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Cuba so that he could see them locally (Papaya, Hort). He even shipped them directly to New York for sale and started pressing and processing them into juices and preserves right in his factory in Miami. But this didn’t last forever, and papayas are no longer imported in such large quantities, leading to a shortage in many areas of the United States (Papaya, Hort).
The Current Sales
Right now, Hawaii is a big consumer of papaya in the United States, but other areas of the world definitely consumer more (Papaya, Wikipedia). For example, Puerto Rico can’t even produce enough papaya in their own country to come close to dealing with demand. As such, they purchase a number of papayas from the Dominican Republic to process into the juice, preserves and other products that the people in their country are inclined to eat (Papaya, Wikipedia).
Southern Mexico names the papaya as one of its leading fruits, but as much as 40% of their crop doesn’t come from Mexico, but from Veracruz, which is able to produce over 120,000 tons of papaya each year (Papaya, Wikipedia). Each of these countries are some of the larger purchasers and importers of the papaya, but it’s actually a reasonably popular fruit throughout the world, leading to large transfers throughout the world as several countries seek to get enough for their own population.
You won’t find a lot of nutrients in a papaya, though you will find some. In 100 grams of papaya, you’re going to get 43 calories and about 75% of your daily intake of Vitamin C as well as about 10% of your daily intake of folate (Papaya, Wikipedia). When it comes to everything else … you’re not getting much. That 100 grams get you about 182 mg of potassium, 21 mg of magnesium, 20 mg of calcium, 10 mg of phosphorus and 8 mg of sodium (Papaya Nutrition, Livestrong). Everything else has less than 1 mg, which means you’re not going to get a whole lot of nutritional benefits here.
Some other aspects are important to look at too, and you can find out a whole lot more. If you want to see more about the nutritional benefits of papaya, make sure you watch the video below.
Ways to Use Papaya
When you’re looking at using a papaya in your daily (or at least weekly) diet, you want to know several different options. For most people, a raw (but fully ripe) papaya is the most common way to eat it (Papaya, Wikipedia). You’ll want to carefully remove the seeds as well as the skin since it’s only the flesh that is eaten. If you want to eat green papayas, there are some different options, but they need to be cooked before you eat them, no matter how that is (Papaya, Wikipedia).
A green papaya can be used in a curry, a salad or even a stew. In many areas of Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Indonesia, these papayas can be used in salads (Papaya, Wikipedia). Even the flowers are able to be used in these types of food as well as being added to stir fry and much more. Because the fruit itself has a high amount of pectin it can also be used in things like jelly or preserves. This is done in a number of different countries, including Brazil where they use the green fruits to make these preserves and other sweets (Papaya, Wikipedia).
The seeds are another way to use the fruit, though you’ll want to be careful about them as they can contain a number of different things (which we’ll talk about later). The seeds generally taste spicy and sharp and can be eaten similar to pumpkin seeds. On the other hand they can be ground up if you’re interested in using them as a type of pepper (Papaya, Wikipedia). When it comes to leaves you can steam them and use them as a type of spinach or a substitute for regular spinach. All-in-all, you won’t have any problem using every part of the plant from its flowers and fruit to the seeds it contains.
Benefits of Papaya Juice
The truth is, even though there aren’t a lot of overall nutritional aspects to papaya, there are plenty of reasons to eat it or drink it. No matter how you add this fruit to your diet, once you know what all the benefits or potential benefits are, you’re definitely going to be interested in trying. It’s a unique fruit and the flavor is going to be a good reason to start trying it for yourself, but when you see how it actually affects your health you’re really going to be impressed with how it will work for you.
Improved Digestive Health
In papaya is an enzyme known as papain (13 Surprising Benefits of Papaya, Organic Facts). This is a super digestive enzyme that helps to break down proteins as well as cleaning out the digestive tract. That means there’s less protein transferred to body fat, which aids in your overall health (13 Surprising Benefits of Papaya, Organic Facts).
If you have trouble with your digestion, you can eat a little bit of papaya (not too much) to help out. If you don’t have enough digestion of the protein in your diet, it can cause you a range of health conditions such as arthritis, constipation, diabetes, or high blood pressure (13 Surprising Benefits of Papaya, Organic Facts, Amazing Benefits of Papaya Juice, StyleCraze).
What may seem surprising is that papayas are actually a great way to lose a little bit of weight. It’s actually a great snack to eat during the mid-morning or even mid-evening to help you stave off some of the hunger pangs (Amazing Benefits of Papaya Juice, StyleCraze). If you want to lose the weight as naturally as possible you’re definitely going to want to add papaya because it has very few calories per serving and still provides you with a great deal of vitamins without cholesterol (13 Surprising Benefits of Papaya, Organic Facts). You also get a lot of water and fiber from it.
When it comes to infections you want to make sure you don’t get them at all and papaya is actually great for that when it comes to intestinal worms. If you end up with them you want to avoid infections and other complications that come along with them and that’s exactly what a papaya will do. It’s also a great way to combat kidney infections, though you want to be very careful about this because the papaya seeds are how you’ll help (13 Surprising Benefits of Papaya, Organic Facts). Those seeds have a range of antibacterial and detoxifying properties to help you overcome several types of bacteria, fever and, even chills (13 Surprising Benefits of Papaya, Organic Facts).
If you’re experiencing the pain associated with toothaches, whether in your teeth or your gums, you can use the papaya roots to create a paste that is easy to apply to any part of your mouth that’s hurting. If you don’t have the papaya itself you can actually use the bark of the tree that the papaya grows on. It’s especially good with the inner bark, which will provide even more pain treatment and tolerance.
When it comes to cancer anyone will do whatever it takes to improve your health and decrease your chances. Papaya leaves can create an extract that actually produces anti-carcinogenic effects against the tumor cells.
When used in a tea and provided with larger doses, it seemed to provide even stronger results. It actually helps to reduce the growth of tumors in all different cultures, especially against breast cancer and pancreatic cancer. With others it’s still highly effective, however, and even the fruit itself has been proven to have some excellent results when it comes to slowing the growth of different types of tumors.
If you’re looking to create your own face mask at home you can definitely do it with papaya. They contain papain which can be used to kill off dead cells and even purify your skin. What’s more, they can work great to help treat your sunburn or otherwise irritated skin. If you need a facial massage you can use this type of mask or if you like to go outside a lot.
The great thing about this fruit is that it can fight free radicals in the skin, which helps to reduce the signs of aging. If you don’t have the fruit itself or if you’re using it for something else you can use the peel to rub against your skin to help with skin disorders.
Better Heart Health
The seeds inside the papaya are great for your heart because they contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E, which are extremely powerful antioxidants. What this means is you’ll have less risk of things like atherosclerosis and even diabetic heart disease. The Vitamin E and Vitamin C in that papaya will help to reduce the sticking of cholesterol to the walls of your blood vessels, which helps to improve the overall health of your heart. They’re also able to reduce the level of cholesterol in your body because they have a great source of fiber.
Acne and Burn Reduction
If you suffer from acne or burns, you can use the latex from papaya to help treat the area. What you do is use the fleshy side of the skin from a papaya to create a mask that can help reduce the visible signs of acne on the outside of the skin or the visible signs of burns. When you eat papaya, you get a reduction of the chance of developing acne in the first place. That’s because the papaya helps to cure a range of different conditions from the inside of the body and you may never develop acne in the first place.
Papain and chymopapain are both present in the papaya and they both can help you reduce inflammation. That inflammation actually occurs throughout your body, but if you’re eating papaya and getting plenty of those enzymes, it will actually help to reduce it no matter where or how it occurs. That’s definitely going to help you feel better simply because of the enzymes that are all naturally occurring in the fruit. Along with vitamins C and E, the two enzymes are going to greatly reduce the problems in your body that result in inflammation.
When it comes to eye disease, macular degeneration is one of the most well-known. When you eat papaya, you can reduce your risk because of beta-carotene, which provides color to the papaya, is ideal for just that. If you eat 3 or more servings of fruit every day you can reduce the risk you have of macular degeneration related to aging. Beta-carotene is present in many different fruits including the papaya and carrots (which are well known for this) and is a type of antioxidant that improves your overall health.
Folate, vitamin C and vitamin E are all capable of reducing motion sickness because they help to tone down the problems that occur throughout the stomach and digestion. They also help to aid in your digestion. All of this, coupled with the high level of fiber in the fruit, helps to increase bowel movements.
If you have better bowel movements you have a much lower chance of difficulty passing stool and, therefore, a much lower risk of constipation. If you’re already experiencing constipation then the papaya and the fiber contained in it will definitely be able to help you loosen it up and experience better bowel movements.
Women who have irregular periods can help to regulate them with green papayas. That’s because they help to produce heat in the body, stimulating the creation of estrogen. When that estrogen level starts to increase enough, it will induce your period.
If you have an irregular period and you eat a moderate amount of papaya you’ll be able to induce a period at a series of more regular intervals, ending up with a more regular cycle that can help you in getting pregnant or dealing with pain, cramping or anything else during that cycle.
Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are combated with chymopapain, an enzyme naturally occurring in papayas. This enzyme can help you control your arthritis, no matter which version of it you currently suffer from.
When it comes to your immunities, you can do some different things to help improve them. Some different studies have shown that there are several antioxidants naturally present in the papaya which can improve your immunities no matter how they already seem to work (13 Surprising Benefits of Papaya, Organic Facts).
When you eat the fruit, you’ll already get a lot of benefits, and that’s just a start. The flowers and roots of the plant can also help with some different illnesses.
Possible Allergies and Side Effects
Unfortunately, as with anything else, some people can have an allergic reaction to papaya. Not only that but there are many different ways that papaya can be harmful to people outside of just their allergies. The most common problems are related to pregnant women, gastrointestinal irritation, and the toxic seeds.
Allergies to papaya are generally because of the latex and the Papain (Papaya, Hort). This causes skin irritation and has been recognized in many of the harvesters of papayas. On the other hand, those with extreme sensitivities have been found to experience respiratory reactions because of the pollen in the flowers (Papaya, Hort). On the other hand, some may experience allergic reactions to any part of the plant or the fruit itself no matter how it’s used or how different parts of it (like the papain) are used (Papaya, Hort).
Harmful for Pregnant Women
For those who are pregnant, papayas can actually cause extreme harm for pregnant women. Semi-ripe or raw papayas contain latex in extremely high concentration and that latex can cause uterine contractions.
Those uterine contractions can actually cause abortion, which means that it’s extremely important that you avoid papaya if you are pregnant in order to protect yourself and your infant as well.
If you eat a large amount of papaya it can act as a laxative in your body. It’s not just a minor laxative either, but an extreme one that can cause extensive pain and even esophageal perforations if too extreme. If you eat a large amount of papaya you could be in for these problems, and if you eat raw versions you’re even more at risk for pain.
Inside the papaya, you’ll find a large number of small black seeds that can contain carmine. That carbine can be extremely toxic, which means you want to avoid eating it. That’s because the carbine can numb the nerve centers in the brain, which can lead to paralysis, narrowing of blood vessels or cardiac depression.