Papaya is native to the tropics of the Americas in the regions of southern Mexico and Central America. The papaya is a tree-like plant that can grow over 30 feet tall. The fruit is a type of berry and when ripe it feels soft and the skin turns an amber to orange hue.
Papaya plants grow in three sexes: male, female, and hermaphrodite. The male produces only pollen, never fruit. The female will produce small, inedible fruits unless pollinated. The hermaphrodite can self-pollinate because its flowers contain both male stamens and female ovaries. As a result almost all commercial papaya orchards contain only hermaphrodite papaya plants.
In 1998, in response to the papaya ringspot virus (PRV) outbreak in Hawaii, genetically altered papaya were approved and brought to market (including ‘SunUp’ and ‘Rainbow’ varieties.) Varieties resistant to PRV have some DNA of this virus incorporated into the DNA of the plant.
Papayas are often eaten raw. To ripen papayas, store at room temperature in a loosely closed paper bag. Ripe fruit has more yellow than green coloring and yields to gentle pressure. The fruit is cut in half and the seeds removed. The flesh can be scooped out or cut into wedges. Cover and refrigerate ripe fruit for up to a week.
Papaya seeds are edible, but quite bitter, pepper and reminiscent of horseradish. Save them to use in your next papaya seed dressing!