What is Papaya (Pawpaw, Papaw)?

Carica papaya L.

Family: Caricaceae

By Prathyush Thomas [GFDL 1.2 or FAL], from Wikimedia Commons

Papaya (pawpaw, Papaw) is a round, pear shaped or elongated tropical fruit with an edible orange flesh and numerous small black edible seeds.

The fruit size varies and can weigh 250g (½ Ib) to 9kg (20Ib).The centre of the fruit is hollow with an oblong cavity containing numerous small back seeds.

The fruits from female trees are round or oval and those from hermaphrodite trees tend to be long and narrow.

The skin is deep green when immature but turns pale green to yellow or orange to rose when ripe.

The flesh may be yellow, orange or pink, sweet and succulent and is eaten ripe in fruit salads or desserts. Green papaw flesh can be used in pickles, chutneys and curried dishes.

Cultivation of Papaya

Papaya is grown worldwide in the tropical regions for it’s fruit and for papain production. The fruits grow in groups at the top of a palm-like tree. They ripen from the apex to the stem end. As they ripen, they turn green to yellow to orange depending on the variety. The green fruit and the latex are rich in the enzyme, papain used to tenderize meat.

How to Buy Papaya

Choose fruits that have some yellow colour. Avoid very dark green fruits. When ripe the fruit should yield to slight pressure but the stem end should be slightly hard. Avoid overripe mushy fruits that dent when pressed. The skin should be smooth and unblemished
Once cut the fruit should have a fragrant and fruity aroma.

How to Ripen Papaya

Ripen papaya fruits at room temperature. To quicken ripening place in a paper bag with a banana.


Store ripe fruits in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to one week but they are best eaten within two days.

How to serve papaya

Cut small ones in half length wise, remove seeds and scoop with a small spoon.

Peel the whole fruit, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Cut in wedges, or dice in cubes or slice in curves. You can also scoop flesh with a melon baller.

Unripe fruits can be baked as you would winter squash or used for making chutney. Bake at 325ºF (160Cº) for 25 minutes. (The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition).

Cultivated Varieties

Solo: this variety is small, pear shaped, about 6-inches (15cm) long and weighing about 250-500g (1/2-1Ib). The skin is greenish yellow with a bright golden or pinkish flesh. It’s usually very sweet compared to the larger varieties.

Mexican Cultivars; these are much larger, up to 24-inches (60cm) and over 500g (1Ib) in weight.

Papaya Seeds

Papaya seeds
 are glossy and black with a spicy pepper-like flavour. They are edible. Rinse the seeds thoroughly and use as a garnish for salads etc. (like capers) Dried seeds can be coarsely ground and used as a seasoning. (The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition).

Papaya Season

Papaya trees bear fruit all the year round but peak in early summer and fall in North America.


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

10 thoughts

  1. How do you care for papaya trees in the Mediterranean. It does not water for a lot of days and the weather in summer is hot and humid. Fall is almost like summer with rough winds from the south. Winter is not that cold with very little rain and spring is almost as summer but more fresher. What about watering please if grown in a field? Any need for fertiliser? Thanks for your help

    1. This paw paw is not the north American one. This one is the one from the tropics. They both have the same nam but they are different species! I have never eaten the north American one!

        1. Pawpaw and papaya are not the same nor are papayas correctly called “pawpaw”. Some people don’t know what a pawpaw is and have incorrectly assumed that papayas and pawpaw are interchangeable because the names are SIMILAR. “Pawpaw” refers to the tree and fruit of the species Asimina triloba, which is native to North America. PAPAYA is native to and only grows in the tropics. There is no such thing as a papaya that is called “pawpaw”.

        2. Thank you very much for your sentiments. I am a trained Plant Taxonomist. The common names papaya, pawpaw and papaw also refers to the species Carica papaya L. (which you call Papaya) and is widely grown in many countries the world over.

          In many parts of Africa Carica papaya L. is commonly known as Pawpaw, in many cultures and tribes and in languages like Swahili. That is why Plant Taxonomists like me stick to the scientific names because common names depend on where you come from and can be misleading and confusing.

          The common name, Pawpaw also refers to the species Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal and that’s why this particular species is usually referred to as American Papaw, because we taxonomists know there are several species that share the same common name, pawpaw.

          The common name pawpaw also refers to another species Vasconcellea pubescens A.DC. Vasconella is from the same family, Caricaceae, as papaya. To distinguish it from these other pawpaws, it’s called Mountain Pawpaw. As you can see it comes from a different genus but it’s still called pawpaw.

          I have travelled and collected plants species in many different parts of the world and I know that common names depend on where you come from. They are not reliable at all.

          I think you are speaking from the North American point of view, I am speaking from the global point of view and as a trained plant taxonomist.

          Thank you very much for the lively debate and stay safe!!!

          Best wishes

  2. I grew up calling it paw paw while Gilligan’s Island influence people to use the other word. In my mind it’s always paw paw.

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