The papaya (also known as pawpaw) is the fruit of the papaya tree, native to Mexico and Central America. Now grown in most tropical regions, the papaya has many uses and health benefits.
The papaya is a rich source of vitamin C, B vitamins, lycopene, and provitamin A. The flesh of the ripe fruit is most often eaten raw, without skin or seeds. The ripe, black seeds are in fact edible; they have a slight spiciness that when ground can be used as a replacement for black pepper.
Papayas can have either red or yellow flesh; when either variety is picked unripe, they are referred to as green papaya. Green papaya is not as sweet as ripe papaya, but is still edible. A staple of Southeast Asian and other tropical cuisines, green papaya is used in raw and cooked dishes, including cold salads and slaws, as well as curries and stews. Even the young leaves and flower buds of the papaya plant are used in Indonesian cuisine.
In addition to eating raw or cooked, papayas have a multitude of uses in food preparation. Due to their high levels of pectin, they make a great ingredient in jams and jellies for a preserve that sets nicely without any additional pectin additives. Green papaya flesh also has a tenderizing affect on meat. Used in a marinade, the fruit helps break down collagen in tough cuts for more succulent results. Being so affective, green papaya is actually included in many commercial powdered meat tenderizers.
Health and beauty applications of papaya
As an herbal remedy, papaya has been used as a contraceptive, to ease digestive issues, and as a topical treatment for cuts and burns. While filming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Harrison Ford is said to have been treated for back injuries with papain injections, made from fermented papaya flesh. Possibly due to high quantities of lycopene, tests with papaya juice seemingly slow the spread of liver cancer cells and boost the immune system. Papaya seeds also may have some antibacterial properties against bugs like E. Coli, salmonella, or staph infections.
Since papaya has high concentrations of provitamins, it is often used in hair conditioner. Though people with latex allergies should be warned; when the fruit is not fully ripe, it can produce a latex fluid that can cause irritation.
Less bothersome than potential latex irritation or papaya allergies, eating an excessive amount of papaya can cause carotenemia, which is the yellowing of the palms and feet. Caused by an overconsumption of beta carotene, carotenemia has no ill effects besides discoloration. It is also much harder to get from papayas; the tropical fruit has only 6 percent of the beta carotene found in carrots.
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