Oval shaped papaya has a bright orange-red flesh, whereas pawpaw has a lighter yellow flesh and is rounder in shape. In New Zealand though, papaya and pawpaw are one in the same.
Fruit is harvested in two stages: “dead green” is when the fruit is picked before any fructose has developed, meaning the fruit will never ripen, and “firm green” is when the fruit has naturally triggered its ripening process. Fruit is then packed and shipped into the country. The firm green or triggered fruit is then conditioned in controlled atmosphere facilities to its desired ripeness then released into the market. The ripened product with yellow skin and bright orange flesh is marketed as pawpaw. The firm, unripened green fruit is sold as green papaya.
The skin and seeds of the unripe green fruit is best cooked, as it contains poisonous latex. The riper green fruit, which is still firm, is enjoyed raw in salads, while the very ripe fruit’s skin would have yellowed and will be soft like an avocado while the pips inside will be a dark black. These black seeds are actually edible and have a sharp, spicy taste.
The green pawpaw is great julienned into a salad with carrot, cucumber, soft herbs such as mint, and a punchy dressing like nam jim.
The fully ripened papaya with its creamy texture and mildly sweet flavour works well in mousses, smoothies and fruit salads. Make a ripe papaya salsa with some chilli, red onion, coriander and lime to accompany fresh fish, seared tuna or grilled chicken.
A halved papaya makes a great vessel for a stunning summer breakfast bowl. Scoop out some of the inside flesh and fill it with chia pudding, then top with extra papaya, granola and other fresh fruits.
Papaya is complemented by tart and piquant flavours, like pineapple, lime, kiwifruit and strawberry. It also pairs well with warm flavours, like nutmeg, allspice and ginger. Other ingredients that work with papaya include chilli, coriander, mint, coconut, passionfruit, orange, rice vinegar, honey, fish sauce and peanuts.
Papain, an enzyme in papayas, tenderises meat, so papayas are often used in marinades for beef or pork. This same enzyme will prevent gelatin from setting, so papayas can’t be used in gelatin desserts.
Papaya is native to Mexico; however, it grows naturally in tropical climates from Florida to the Caribbean, the Pacific to Southeast Asia, with India being the world’s largest papaya producer. All papaya is imported into New Zealand, the majority from the Philippines and imported by Dole NZ, with smaller volumes out of Fiji during certain points of the year.