Papaya may bring images to mind of swaying palm trees and sparkling blue water lapping a faraway South Pacific beach. In fact, the pear-shaped fruit is grown here in Florida, and is at its peak during the spring months.
Papaya's myriad uses make it a cooking must-have. Its flesh and leaves contain an enzyme called papain that's a natural meat tenderizer; its seeds are edible and add an interesting peppery flavor to salads and desserts. Papaya in its unripe (green) state is a staple in Thai cooking, where it's used to make a refreshing salad.
Plus, after you slice it and half and scoop out the seeds, papaya can double as a bowl for fruit salad or frozen yogurt. To top it all off, this low-cal tropical gem is loaded with vitamin C and is a good source of potassium and folate.
Look for fruit that are mostly yellow, they'll ripen completely in a few days on the kitchen counter. You can tell papaya is ready to eat when it's very aromatic and yields to pressure. Softening at the stem end is the first sign of decay, don't let your fruit reach that point.
If you want to use it for savory dishes, you should look for very firm, green papayas. As they ripen they turn a vivid shade of yellow. When you slice into the fruit, scoop out the seeds and save them for later use. The flesh should be pink or orange. To enhance the flavor of a marinade, dry the seeds and grind them up before whisking them in with the other ingredients.
Try papaya in these FoodFit recipes:
Green Papaya Salad
Spring Fruit Salad