Papaya (Carica papaya), reportedly called “the fruit of the angels” by Columbus, was first cultivated in Central and South America. India, Brazil, and Mexico are among the world’s top producers, yet papaya is grown and shipped to a lesser degree from Hawaii, California, Florida, and a host of other countries.
Contrary to popular belief, papaya does not grow on a ‘tree’ but from a large herbaceous plant that can reach up to 30 feet in height. It is often called ‘pawpaw’ in other parts of the world, but should not be confused with North American asimina fruit, which has a banana-mango flavoring. Other papaya name variants include kepaya, lechosa, mamao, mamona, mikana, milikana, papaia, and he’i.
Along with its succulent flesh, the fruit’s gelatinous round black seeds are edible and have a strong, peppery flavor. The fruit’s leaves are edible as well: in Southeast Asia they are cooked and eaten like spinach.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Varieties are often classified as Hawaiian or Mexican; Solo is the most widely known Hawaiian cultivar, weighing a pound or two with yellow skin and orange or pink flesh when ripe. Mexican varieties tend to be significantly larger.
Pear-shaped or round, papaya can grow up to 20 inches in length and weigh up to 20 pounds. Popular varieties in Hawaii (other than Solo) include Kapoho, Sunrise, and Waimanolo; other worldwide variations and hybrids have included Bettina, Betty, Brazilian Formosa, Burliar Long, Gold Cross, Golden, Higgins, Honey Dew, Honey Gold, Hong Kong, Linda, Maradol, Mountain, Pusa, Red Queen, Red Lady, Rainbow, Santa Cruz Giant, Singapore Pink, SunUp, Sunnybank, Sunset, Tainung, Washington, Wilder, Yarwun Yellow, and Zapote.