Photo: Late boat at Waecicu near Labuan Bajo.

What is a papaya?

Eaten when the flesh is either underripe and green or sweetly ripe and orange to red, the pear-shaped papaya is home is native to Central America but is now grown throughout Southeast Asia - in many areas, most rural homes will have at least a few of the quickly-growing trees in their garden. The fruit can weigh up to nine kilograms, but the larger ones are usually not as flavoursome as their smaller cousins.

The pulp of the papaya is soft, with a delicate flavour and a mass of black seeds at the centre. The flowers, leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked and eaten, while the seeds are used as a spice. Papaya contains a powerful enzyme called papain, obtained by tapping the skin of the unripe fruit, which is used to tenderise meat.

In Thailand, green papaya is typically served as a spicy salad, while the red fruit is served peeled and sliced from street vendors (about 10 baht a serving). Papaya is delicious for breakfast with freshly squeezed lime juice drizzled over it.

The bitter leaves and seeds of the papaya are supposed to be good for ridding the body of parasites, and some believe the leaves prevent malaria. Papayasan, made from the leaves and juice of unripe fruits, is said to boost the pancreas and excellent for diabetics, as well as a good prevention for amoebic dysentry.

Fruit in Asia FAQ

A bit of history, perhaps a taste-test and an idea on just what some of those Asian fruits really look like.

Asian fruit FAQ

What is a banana?
What is a cantaloupe?
What is a durian?
What is a guava?
What is a jackfruit?
What is a longan?
What is a mangosteen?
What is a pineapple?
What is a rambutan?
What is a soursop?
What is a starfruit?
What is a watermelon?

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