Caricaceae (Papaya family)
The pink flesh of the Hawaiian papaya (left) is sweeter than the orange flesh of the papaya. They are varieties of the same species.
Description. Treelike, single-stemmed plant, soft-wooded, 5-10 m (16-32 ft) tall; trunk is conspicuously scarred where leaves have fallen off. Leaves are spirally arranged at the top of the trunk. Large, deeply palmate leaves 40-65 cm (16-26 in) long with 5-9 lobes and with petioles 35-100 cm (14-39 in) long. Stem, leaves, and unripe fruits contain milky latex. Dioecious, hermaphrodite or monoecious flowers are produced in axils of leaves. Flowers yellowish-green, with 5 waxy petals. Fruits melonlike, oval to round, orange-yellow to yellow, 15-50 cm (6-20 in) long with smooth skin. Soft flesh orange, juicy, and sweet, sometimes with a musky flavor. The central cavity contains numerous small round black seeds covered by a thin, gelatinous aril.
Origin and Distribution. The exact origin of the Papaya is unknown, as it was already commonly cultivated and traded in pre-Columbian times. Probably native to southern Mexico and Central America. Columbus reputedly called the papaya the “fruit of the angels.” Very early Spanish and Portuguese sailors took seeds to their colonies in Africa and tropical Asia. Around 1550, papayas were already growing in the Philippines. Today papayas are cultivated as dooryard plants or in plantations all over the tropics.
Food uses. Ripe papayas are usually eaten fresh, often sprinkled with lime juice and sugar. They are a common ingredient in fruit salads or made into a delicious fruit drink by blending the flesh with water, ice, and sugar. The ripe flesh is frequently made into a sauce served with desserts and ice cream. Papayas are sometimes used in the preparation of savory seafood and meat dishes.
Unripe, green fruits are normally boiled before consumption because they contain latex. Cooked, they are often served as a vegetable side dish in curries or used in soups and stews. Green papayas are especially popular in Thai cuisine. Young leaves and male flowers are cooked and eaten as a leaf vegetable in Asia. The black, edible seeds have a spicy taste and are sometimes used as a substitute for black pepper.
Comments. Besides being rich in fiber, papayas are a very good source of vitamins A, C, and E, folate, pantothenic acid, and the minerals potassium and magnesium. They also contain the proteolytic enzyme papain, which can break down protein. It has been used as a meat tenderizer for millennia. It is also used to treat digestive problems, injuries, and allergies.
The top papaya producer in the world is Brazil, followed by Nigeria, India, and Mexico.
Mountain papayas are a very good source of vitamin C.
Description. Evergreen softwood tree, sparsely branched, 3-5 m (10-16 ft) tall. Alternate leaves are concentrated at the tips of the plant and the branches. Cordate leaves deeply palmately lobed. Blades 4050 cm (16-20 in) wide with petioles 30-40 cm (1216 in) long. Male and female flowers on separate plants. Yellowish male flowers in panicles 10-15 cm (4-6 in) long. Yellowish-green female flowers, with 5 fleshy petals, are borne singly on short stalks. Obovoid, orange to yellow fruits, 6-16 cm (2.4-6 in) long, with 5 pronounced longitudinal lobes and a soft yellow to orange flesh. Fruits contain numerous round brown seeds. The plant and unripe fruits contain a milky latex.
Origin and Distribution. Native to the Andes of South America from Colombia south to central Chile. The plant grows naturally in inter-Andean valleys between 1,800 and 3,200 m (5,900-10,500 ft). Frequently cultivated as a dooryard tree within its natural range. Also grown in areas with a subtropical climate and in cool mountain climates of Southeast Asia and Africa. The tree can withstand light frosts.
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