Papaya and its uses

The Papaw, It’s been called the poor man’s banana. It is a fruit that vaguely resembles a pear in shape, although it is larger than a pear. It is a yellow/green color. It is edible and has been recommended for its medicinal value. It grows in the Southern and Central parts of the US, including Texas and Ohio. They are grown in other parts of the world also, such as Guyana, Brazil, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The seeds of the papaw can be used to make a beverage which many say it is delicious. It can be flavored with a bit of cinnamon and clove to add to the delicious flavor.

A delicious papaw drink is made out of these ingredients: (1) Seeds taken from a yellow papaw; (2) 3 pints of water or more; (3) sugar to taste and a few cloves and cinnamon if you desire. Put the ingredients into a covered bottle and leave it for three days. Strain and serve with ice. It doesn’t take much to bring out the natural flavor of the papaw.

IN Brazil they are called mamo. In parts of the Caribbean they are known as fruta bomba. Mexicans speak of them as melon zapote, and Australians and South Sea islanders call them papaw. But others prefer the Latin name, Carica papaya. You may know them as melons on a tree.

The Papaw is the only member of the custard apple family that grows outside the tropics. They are succulent, melon-shaped fruits with certain health benefits. They have a very unique flavor with a very creamy texture. They are delicious ripe, in season. Finding them might be somewhat of a challenge as they are not sold in most mainstream supermarkets. Somewhat like cantaloupes, roundish or pear-shaped, they can weigh over a pound each, are 3 to 20 inches long, and grow in clusters of 30 or more individual fruits, directly on the trunk of the papaw tree.

This plant of the papaya looks like a small palm tree, with a crown of leaves but no lateral branches, and attains an average height of 10 to 13 feet. Although having the appearance of a tree, it is really a herbaceous plant, with a fleshy rather than a woody stem. Some call it the “giant plant.” Its deeply lobed leaves remind you of fig or maple leaves, although those of the papaya sometimes measure 2 feet across and are borne on hollow stalks.

Papaya plants develop to their full size within less than a year. Development begins from the black, round, wrinkled, pea like seeds found in the hollow inside. And the plants are ready to bear fruit at any time during the year. Usually the papaya tree is female, always producing an abundant crop of roundish fruits. But there are also male plants with bisexual flowers, which produce cylindrical fruits on long stalks. They may live five or more years.

Although papaws are similar to muskmelons in taste and shape, the skin is smooth. It turns from green to yellow while ripening, in about nine months. The fruit flesh usually is yellow or orange yellow, sometimes salmon colored, and is about 1 inch thick. It has very little fiber, and its characteristic flavor, unlike that of any other fruit, is slightly sweet, with a pleasant musky tang.

Why not try some papaw for breakfast or dessert? Some enjoy it rawwhen ripe, of coursewith or without sugar or lemon. Many Brazilians prefer it in fruit salad, together with banana, mango and pineapple. Or they make it into a delicious drink by mixing the ripe flesh in a blender together with pineapple or other fruits. Others prefer papaw or papaya as a sauce, prepared by cooking unripe fruits and adding sugar and perhaps grated coconut.

The green fruit flesh cooked in syrup also is very tasty. Still others use the papaw unripe as a vegetable (cooked like squash), particularly in stews. Additional uses are in pies, sherbets and confections. Compote also is made from the green fruit, either cut in cubes or grated. Cut the fruit in cubes and leave them in water with a little quicklime (wrapped in a cloth) until the next day. Then rinse off the cubes and cook them with sugar or, for caramel flavor, with burned sugar. The quicklime hardens the outside, as in crystallized fruit. Unfortunately, papaws or papayas are highly perishable and are difficult to export, except when canned or as juice in soft drinks.

Medicinal Properties

The papaw tree is sometimes called the “medicine tree.” And that certainly is with good reason, since every part of it contains some medicinal properties. The hollow fleshy stem is rich in vitamins A, B and C, as well as in calcium, phosphorus and iron. In the trunk of the female tree are found 1-1/2 percent protein and 7 to 10 percent sugar. The milky juice in the stalks, leaves and unripe fruit is highly anthelmintic (meaning that it destroys intestinal worms). Also, the little black seeds digest and therefore eliminate all kinds of undesirable parasites in the intestines. Papaw or papaya helps to digest the protein of meat, eggs, milk, beans and similar foods, and, hence, promotes the proper functioning of the pancreas. Moreover, papaya alleviates indigestion, protects against infection, aids diabetics and hepatitis patients, and is used to clarify wine and beer.

But you may wonder, What is it that makes papaws so valuable as a remedy? It cannot be just vitamins and mineral salts. That is true. But have you ever heard about the enzyme papain? It is this enzyme that makes the papaw so unique in digesting proteins. Found exclusively in papayas, papain is similar to the animal enzyme pepsin. The pharmaceutical industry has long been benefiting from papain. By the way, the greatest amount of papain is found just under the skin of the unripe fruit. So, while the papaw is still hanging on a tree, long scratches are made in the skin. The white juice oozes out, similar to the exuding of latex from rubber trees, and is caught in containers. The cuts are repeated every three to five days. While papaws ripen, the flow gradually diminishes and it stops when they are fully ripe. The dried juice then is ready for shipping.

If you live in the tropics or visit them, you will appreciate the papaw or papaya even more, since, in such countries, you may be plagued with parasites such as hookworms that settle in your small intestine and colon. However, papain attacks and dissolves the keratinous epidermis of the most common parasites. Papain is harmless and is the cheapest worm remedy in the tropics. If you do not like eating papayas while they are green and rather bitter, why not chew and swallow a piece of the leaf or a tablespoonful of the seeds after each meal? This thought may not be so pleasant, but it certainly could protect your system against invading parasites. The seeds have a pungent taste, not unlike that of watercress or radishes.

Whenever you have a heavy, protein-rich meal, eat a slice of ripe papaw. It may save you from a bout with indigestion. Should you be the cook, wrap raw meat overnight in one of the big papaya leaves. You will be amazed at the tenderizing effect. Hunters and housewives in Brazil’s hinterland have been doing this for a long time. When they kill an old animal, they wrap its tough meat in papaya leaves and by the next day it is as tender as that of a young animal. An old chicken can be tenderized in the same way, or by rubbing it with papaya juice. For that reason, most commercial meat tenderizers contain papain.

But there are other benefits. Cook papaya flowers in water, add burned or brown sugar, and strain off the syrup. It makes a fine cough mixture. In Brazil, many people place a piece of papaya leaf on sores to promote healing. They simply tie the leaf directly onto the wound or sore. Also, mashed papaya flesh is used externally in treating skin blemishes.

Now that you “know” papaws much better, let us remind you where to find them. Although called “melons,” they do not grow on a vine. Rather, look up at them, for they are the “melons” on a tree.

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