This is a fruit which you come to love once you develop a taste for it. It is not everyone’s favourite, but those who love it find it hard to get by a morning without digging into a bowl of freshly cubed papayas. The orange-coloured flesh is very tempting indeed, but what puts most people off, is the slight bitter aftertaste that accompanies the otherwise sweet fruit. This is the reason why children are often fussy about it and instead go for sinful mangoes, grapes, berries and the like. Have it on its own or team it with a mixed-fruit bowl, it is an energy booster.
Believed to be a native of Central America, growing along the Caribbean coast, the tree was considered sacred by the Mayans for its various medicinal properties. The fruits are not the only segment of the tree that was considered valuable, the leaves, seeds, and flowers too possess healing powers. It is also said that the great voyager Christopher Columbus used to refer to it as “fruit of the angels”. What makes papaya such an incredible ingredient is the presence of the enzyme papain along with other essential nutrients that work together to provide you nature’s best.
1. Digestion - The enzyme papain present in papaya is known to aid digestion by breaking down proteins. Therefore, a glass of papaya juice is often recommended as a home remedy for digestion-related problems or constipation.
2. Anti-inflammatory - Apart from papain, papaya also contains other effective enzymes that help against inflammation and promote healing of burns.
3. Heart Disease and Cancer - Papaya is rich in anti-oxidants and phytonutrients that work against free radicals and therefore is said to protect the body from possible heart diseases and cancer.
4. Diabetes - Many researchers have found that the consumption of raw papaya could help maintain blood sugar level and cholesterol because of the high fiber content, thereby keeping a check on diabetes. According to a study done by the Centre of Excellence for Biomedical and Biomaterials Research at the Mauritius University, green tea and fermented papaya work together as preventive means for diabetes. In some parts of India, especially the North East, papaya flowers are locally used as a preventive measure against diabetes. The bitter flowers are lightly sautéed in a little oil and consumed as a side to rice on a regular basis.
5. Immunity - Papaya is a great source of vitamin A, B, C, and K and is known as an excellent immunity booster. It is great for the growth of body tissues, including hair and skin. It helps in maintaining collagen, the structural protein of connective tissues. It is said that a medium-sized papaya could provide you double your daily requirement of vitamins.
6. Cleansing - Beauty experts too, often suggest using slices of papaya as a natural skin cleanser as the active enzymes work wonders to remove impurities.
7. Arthritis - It is also rich in minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and copper. Regular consumption helps in building up the calcium bank in the body and in the long run could help keep a check on arthritis.
8. Dengue - Papaya leaves are commonly used in the treatment of dengue to help boost up the count of platelets. Dr. Anju Sood, a Bangaluru-based nutritionist says, “Dengue is an infection which affects the blood platelets massively. A simple remedy to get back the platelets count is to give the patient a glass of papaya leaf juice. It is prepared by grinding the leaves with a small amount of water to extract the juice.” However, dengue can prove to be fatal once it develops into Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever which shuts down the circulatory system.
9. Weight Loss - papaya is low in calories and therefore proves to be the perfect option for breakfast. A serving of 140 grams of the fruit contains only 60 calories, with total fat 0.4 gram, no cholesterol, 15.7 gram carbohydrates and 2.5 gram dietary fiber.
Cooking with Papaya
Papayas are commonly available in the markets and used in both forms, raw and ripe, to cook a number of dishes. The Thai classic, raw papaya salad is one of the most popular dishes not just in Southeast Asia but across the globe too. The julienned flesh tossed with lemon juice, chillies, peanuts and fresh herbs provide a delicious medley of flavours, and it makes a great option for a refreshing and light lunch.
In India, papaya is used to make halwas, coolers, chutneys, pachadi (south Indian accompaniment), and the likes. Raw papaya is considered to be one of the best agents to tenderise meat and is extensively used in the making of kebabs and meat-based curries such as Bengali Mutton Chaap or Spicy Duck Roast.
The young leaves are often steamed or lightly sautéed and consumed as a green leafy veggie. The flowers too are slightly sautéed and eaten along with rice. The unripe fruit is made into curries and stews along with aromatic spices which lend in a delectable flavour. Let’s not forget the seeds! Packed with nutrients, they have a spicy flavour and are often used as a substitute to black pepper in some cultures.
Here are three simple recipes to help you get started –