How to Eat Papaya and Papaya Health Benefits

how to eat papaya

In the grocery store last week, I had a life changing moment.  I was walking through the produce section, ignoring the tempting tropical fruit stand, intent on my quest to try and eat locally as often as possible.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted them.  Five sirens in an ocean of fruit, calling out to me and me alone.  Their song made me blind to everything else around me.  They were five softball sized papayas, not the giant Mexican variety that are readily available on the mainland, but small and beautiful papayas like I grew up with.  I picked one up and cradled it lovingly in my palms.  Minutes must have gone by as I smelled it, squeezed it, whispered to it, “Are you from Hawaii?  Can it really be?”I turned it over and sure enough, a sticker with the image of Diamond Head smiled at me from the dimpled flesh of the fruit.  “Screw eating local!” I squealed, frightening the young mother who quickly shielded her daughter from the crazy papaya lady.  I quickly put all five in my basket.  Then reason reared its ugly head and I hesitantly checked the price on the bin.

“Three dollars!?  I had a whole tree of these back home for free!  Three dollars for one!?”  I knew that I couldn’t justify all three, but one, just one beautiful, perfect papaya.  I could justify that.  “Besides,” I told myself.  “I’ll write a blog post on papayas.  Then it’s for business.”  Satisfied with my reasoning, I inspected each one, feeling their weight, smelling for any hint of over ripeness.  I picked the one I determined to be the winner, and headed gleefully home.

Papayas and I have a long history.  Going into Middle School was tough for me, not only was I new to the school, new to being a teenager and new to that dreaded change in hormones, but I was new to Hawaii.  Moving to Hawaii is a lot like moving to a foreign country.  Though I had lived in foreign countries before, I was in that gawky and self conscious stage where any unknown is determined a nightmare.

But on our second day in this unknown paradise, we went to visit the house we would soon live in.  The first person I met was a girl named Holly, and she gave me my first taste of papaya.  There was a papaya tree in the neighborhood, and right near it was a lemon tree.  We each picked a papaya, then she grabbed a lemon.  She pulled a spoon from her pocket and used it the cut through the soft skin of her papaya, then handed the dripping spoon to me to do the same.  Inside, the fruit was a golden orange with a hollow center filled with tiny peppercorn-like seeds.

She demonstrated how to scoop the seeds out and then peeled the lemon and squeezed some of its  juice over each of our papaya halves.  Finally, it was time to eat.  We took turns with the spoon, scooping bits of fruit from the skin.  As juice ran down my chin I used the skin of the papaya like a cup to catch each drop.

how to seed papaya

Holly filled me in on her favorite places to eat, why you can’t really ride bikes in our neighborhood, what happens on “Kill Haole Day“, and how to catch waves on a boogie board.  I finally felt like I had an inside scoop on what my life in this new unknown might look like.  Sticky, messy, but lots of fun.

From that day on papaya was my favorite fruit.  I would want it for breakfast, an after school snack, or even dessert.  If I happened across a papaya tree on a hike, it didn’t matter if I was full.  I’d grab one whip out my knife, and eat the soft and juicy fruit on the trail.  I’d crunch on the bitter seeds (Wait, you ask, can you eat papaya seeds?  Yes, I’ll explain momentarily) and gnaw on the inside of the skin to get at every last bit of the sweet flesh.

On a trip to California with some friends eight years ago, we came across the Mexican variety in a grocery store.  “Giant papaya!”  We all yelled and bought one to share.  Unfortunately the sweetness we were expecting was nowhere to be found.  It was bland and slightly bitter.  A bitter disappointment.

So if you happen to find a Hawaiian papaya in your grocery store, don’t pass it up!  So what if you don’t know how to cut a papaya, I’ll teach you!  Simply slice through the papaya lengthwise, stem end and all.  The fruit is so soft, you can even use a spoon or fork, though a knife is easiest.  Next use a spoon (or your fingers if you don’t mind getting messy) to scoop out those beautiful seeds.  Don’t throw the seeds away, eating papaya seeds is an acqiured taste for some, but if you don’t like the slight bitterness you can dry them spread out on a plate and put them in a pepper grinder.  They make a lovely gourmet pepper for finishing off dishes like salads and pastas.

The next question I always get from those of you trying to save lots of money (like me) by not wasting any part of their food is, can you eat papaya skin?  The answer is yes, but you may not like the taste.  I find it rather bitter so don’t eat them.  If you have a sensitive digestive system they can also cause some issues (dare I use the D word?), but they aren’t actually harmful.

The tip in how to prepare papaya like a local, is a squeeze of fresh lemon.  I knew a lot of people with papaya trees in their backyard, and several of them had a lemon tree nearby.  The two go so well together, the sour lemon juice makes the sweetness of the papaya even more intense.  The best ratio is the juice of half a lemon for each papaya.  Don’t squeeze it all it once, start with just enough to coat the surface of the flesh, once you start eating away the surface, add lemon juice as you need it.

squeezing lemon on papaya

Last but not least, because I have to prove to you that I really did buy this papaya just to teach you all I could about it (okay not really but don’t tell my budget!), let’s talk about the papaya’s health benefits.  A lot of people in Hawaii have told me that eating a papaya a day, skin seeds and all cured their cancer, warts, migraines, etc.  I’m not going there.  If there’s not scientific proof, I say good for you but I’m not going to count on it doing the same for me.  (Fortunately I don’t have any of those ailments to worry about!)

Papayas are so full of Vitamin C that one papaya has more than triple the recommended daily value!  They’re also packed with folate, fiber, potassium and vitamin A.  They’re very good for digestion (especially the skin which is where the D word comes in if you eat too much).  They’re also rich in lycopene which has been shown in studies to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.  They’re one of nature’s super foods and thinking of how many I ate in Hawaii, and how often I get sick since moving to Washington, I may become a believer in the papaya health movement!

So if you get a chance to try a Hawaiian papaya, let me know what you think.  I’d love to hear it!

eric eating papaya

Perfect Papaya

serves 2 (or 1 if you don’t feel like sharing)

Ingredients

1 Hawaiian Papaya
1/2 fresh lemon

Instructions

Cut the papaya in half lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and tough membranes holding the seeds.  Slice the lemon half into two wedges.  Squirt a little juice over each papaya half.

Use a spoon to scoop the flesh from the papaya skin, add more lemon juice as needed.

Approximate cost/serving: Cost me $3.10 but I was nice and split it with Eric so $1.55 a serving.  A pricey but healthy indulgence.

Vegetarian/Gluten Free: Yes and vegan too.


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35 Responses to “How to Eat Papaya and Papaya Health Benefits”

  1. LB
    February 21, 2011 at 6:05 am #

    Interesting post… I’ve never tried papaya with lemon. I was served lots of papaya when I did a study abroad in Costa Rica and later when I spent 6 months working in Panama. It’s one of a tiny handful of foods that I can honestly say I hate. Next time it appears on my plate, I will try it with lemon and see if that changes my opinion.

  2. Fran
    February 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Now I MUST find a Hawaiian papaya. I have never found the redeeming value in papaya. I try it and find no flavor and dismiss it with a wave of my hand.

    I always tell the story of my first few weeks in the Philippines when my driver was so excited about giving me a papaya he had grown. He was going to bring it in the next day. Well, I got in the car and in the back seat next to me was a papaya so large I thought it must be a record breaker. I was very excited because all of the tropical fruit I’d been eating in my new home was amazing. Small pineapples that were so sweet and mangosteens and lychees and mangoes that will never compare with what we get in the US.

    So after work he took me home, brought the monster fruit inside for me and left. I grabbed a knife and dug in and … it was tasteless. I thought perhaps it was just too big and overgrown, but I had papaya so many times after that and always the same — without flavor.

    So I think the Hawaiian papaya is key. It is so much smaller and it looks so lusciously golden and juicy. Unlike any papaya I’d ever had before. I am going to hope to find one in my market tomorrow.

    You’ve got me on the hunt now!! :)

    • Name
      November 24, 2013 at 10:08 am #

      THANK YOU VERY MUCH ABOUT THE PAPAYAS, YOU ARE RIGHT THE BEST ARE FROM HAWAII,, AND I DONT KNOW IF YOU KNOW THAT THE SWEET PAPAYA MUST BE SLITLY LONG AND THE SKIN MUST HAVE VERY MINUTE. BLACK SPOTS, OTHER WISE. THE INSIDE WILL BE YELLOW, I AM FROM SOUTH AMERICA(Colombia AN D WE. HAVE THERE VERY SWEETS ONE.

      REMEMBER READING ABOUT THE PREVIOUS POPE HE ATE A PAPAYA EVERY SINGLE, AND HE DEMANDED TO BE BROUGHT SPECIALLY FOR HIM.

      I LIVE IN LONDON AND IN KEW GARDEN THERE IS A TREE AND THEY TALK ABOUT HOW HEALTHY THE PAPAYAS ARE.

      ANY WAY THANKS ONCE AGAIN

      MYRIAM

  3. angela
    February 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    I love papaya and your post made me wish I could go out and buy one. Sadly you don’t see them much in France, and if you do they’ve travelled too far to be any good. You really conjured up their delicious unique taste, thanks for breaking your budget to give us such a delicious vicarious tasting!

  4. Sally
    February 27, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    Diana, The first time I visited Hawaii I stayed with my grandmother (she spent her winters there because my uncle built a hotel and restaurant near Diamond Head). One of her friends had a papaya tree, so there was always a bowl of ripe papayas and lemons on the table. Ever since then, I’ve been a papaya gal all the way. Mangoes are good, but I’ll choose a papaya first, hands down. I will have to keep my eyes peeled. Boston is a long way from Hawaii, so I don’t know when I will get my hands one. It would be a great antidote for today’s snow storm, that’s for sure. It feels like winter will never end, so in my mind I will travel back to Honolulu and those sweet (and juicy) memories. Thanks for a lovely post!
    Sally

  5. Sally
    February 27, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    p.s. I recall my grandmother touting that the seeds are good for digestion–I wonder if that was local lore or truth? will have to look it up!

  6. Jennifer Howard
    March 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    I’m excited to try a Hawaiian papaya, but you didn’t share much info on how to pick that perfectly ripe papaya…what does one look for?

    • diana
      March 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Great question Jenny, it should give slightly with a gentle pressure but not feel mushy. Don’t squeeze too hard because they bruise easily. Smell the end where the stem used to be, there should be a very light sweet smell. If it’s not ripe yet don’t despair, they can ripen on the counter. You don’t want one with black splotches, it should be a mottled yellow and green (more yellow than green though).

  7. SoulEating
    March 5, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    This was a really lovely post. I love hearing about the simple pleasures we carry through our lives from childhood. I’ve never had Hawaiian papaya, only the giant Mexican variety which is just as you described it – bland! When I lived in Los Angeles I may have seen a few Hawaiian papayas and not known it but scoffed and turned my nose up at such a tiny papaya! I will have to make sure I keep my eyes peeled for them!

    • diana
      March 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      Definitely, sometimes good things do come in small packages ;)

  8. Jennifer Howard
    March 5, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    They were 2/$5 at Fred Meyer, so I got one. Felt it was a good deal, looked for a ripe one, and will try it today. Got my lemon too!

    • diana
      March 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      Awesome! How was it?

  9. Emma
    March 5, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    You write so beautifully, you really captured my imagination! The papayas we get in the UK are sad, aroma-less imitations of what you have, I don’t know why but they just taste of nothing (perhaps they’re picked super-underripe to survive air-freighting?) so I shall have to wait until (one day!) I can make a trip to Hawaii and follow your tips!

    • diana
      March 14, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      Oh thank you so much Emma. Are the ones you get in the UK from Hawaii? It is a far way to travel so that’s quite possibly the culprit. In Hawaii I sometimes picked unripe papayas and let them ripen on the counter or in a paper bag. They still tasted good but not as amazing as when picked at their peak.

  10. Tonne
    March 5, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    I have never tried papaya with lemon. I have always used fresh lime juice. I will have to give the lemon juice a try!

    • diana
      March 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

      You’ll have to let me know what you think!

  11. Tawny
    March 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    you may not be eating local for you…..but those papaya’s grow right near my home so it is local for one of your reader! (that’s close enough right?) and really…..we need as much stimulation for our farms as possible…..unless it is dole…..then don’t worry. they have plenty of $$ (wait- was it a dole papaya?!)

    papaya also makes a great bbq sauce when blended with apple cider vinegar, mustard and ketchup (or whatever base you prefer) use to it sweeten

    • diana
      March 14, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      Lucky! No, it wasn’t Dole, I think it was Diamond Head, which I hadn’t heard of. Where in Hawaii are you? I’m so going to try papaya barbecue sauce now!

      • Tawny
        June 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

        wow…took me long enough to reply to your post eh? I’m on Oahu, outside of Honolulu :) Did you try papaya in your BBQ sauce yet?

  12. Scott
    March 7, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Hi, perhaps you can help. I’ve been researching about eating the seeds but can’t find an answer. How many seeds a day or week are safe and for how long? I’ve heard, for instance a teaspoon after meals. Would you know? Thank you.

    • diana
      March 14, 2011 at 11:38 am #

      Sorry Scott, I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t found any solid answer either. I know some people who eat all the seeds with every papaya they have, some who just have 5 seeds at a time. I’d say if you’re concerned, talk to your doctor or a dietitian before giving papaya seeds a try.

      • nancy
        July 10, 2011 at 11:42 am #

        My friends in Mexico do the seeds to kill parasites. I did 25 ground up a day for 3 weeks. One time, my parasites were gone. They reoccured and the next treatment they didn’t seem to work.

  13. Brandy
    March 7, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    The only experience I’ve had with papaya is of the mexican variety and it smelled and tasted of rotten, nasty feet. Or something like that.

    I’m now insanely curious about Hawaiian papaya, I want to like it. I want it to be delicious and wonderful. I’ll have to really keep an eye out for these guys at the store.

    Papaya enzymes are recommended for post gastric bypass patients to help aid digestion issues! You can buy the supplements but I bet a fresh papaya would be much better!

    • diana
      March 14, 2011 at 11:32 am #

      That’s awesome, I didn’t know about it being recommended for that. Not only is it probably better, but it would be a lot more fun to eat! Let me know if you get a chance to try one Brandy.

  14. Lynda S
    June 11, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    I used to hate Mexican papaya until I discovered that the juice of lime sparked the flavor! Now I can’t get enough.

    Never even considered lemon juice on the Hawaiian papaya cause I thought they were perfect as is! Guess I will have to try it out.

    • diana
      June 21, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

      They really are perfect, the lemon just accentuates their sweetness. Thanks for commenting!

      • Cathy
        September 4, 2013 at 10:00 am #

        Is there any way to salvage a $5 !!! Mexican papaya if you cut it open, taste it, and it is bitter, not sweet. (It was actually quite soft and seemed to be ripe, for sure!)

        • Diana
          September 27, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

          Hmmm, I would try using it in a slaw or salad with a dressing like this mango salad. I think the dressing and other flavorful ingredients like bell peppers and cilantro or thai basil can help with the bitterness.

  15. Jac
    April 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    After moving to Hawaii two days ago, and sitting with my local papaya from the little street market on the table in front of me, this was a perfect read! I will have to get a lemon next time, thanks for such a great post!

    • Diana
      October 5, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      That’s wonderful Jac! Hope you are loving the islands as much as I did.

  16. Sheri
    October 29, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    I came across this post while looking for instructions on how to eat a papaya. Too funny and nicely written.
    I just moved to Hawaii two weeks ago from Washington and so much of this blog rang true. I bought my first papaya today which I tossed into a smoothie. The seeds are so fun.
    I figured if I was going to live cheaply here I should eat locally so I’m on a mission to find tasty local food. Can’t wait to discover more island flavors.

    • Diana
      October 31, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

      Thanks Sheri, you have such a wonderful world of local food in your future. ‘nalo greens, apple bananas, mangos, passionfruit, oh how I miss the island produce!

  17. LorriAnne
    November 11, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    My son and I moved to Bolivia, but I have had papaya in the USA. It’s icky! Since it was icky in the USA, I didn’t want to try it here. Where I live, we have several papaya trees. They have several ripe fruits on them. After reading your post, I’m going to try one, with some lemon, and see. I’ll come back and update you on if it’s good here in Bolivia or not. A lot of people eat them here. I love fruits where you can eat the seeds, too. I love the crunchiness of them! Love your blog, by the way, lots and lots of info!

    • Diana
      November 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      Oh thank you LoriAnne. I look forward to hearing more about Bolivian papaya!

  18. Karuna
    May 12, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    At the farmer’s markets on the Big Island I am finding that I can bet 7-8 papayas for $2!! Best buy EVER!! I’ve been eating 2 per day – so yummy! I’ll have to try the seeds now… I love all the wonderful local and fresh produce at the farmer’s markets, which are also very inexpensive compared to the mainland. It’s a great way to eat, as well as support the locals! 3 more weeks, 2 papayas/day = 42 more papayas to look forward to and all for $6. Aloha!

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