Papayas and 9 Ways to Use Them

August  9, 2014

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: Should a waiter offer us a choice of fruit, we always decide to eat more payaya. Get to know this versatile tropical fruit, and we bet you will too. 


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Fun game for your next picnic: Ask everyone to visualize what type of plant papayas grow on. Having trouble? Picture coconuts growing on a coconut palm tree -- now substitute papayas in for the coconuts, and you’ve got a good idea of what the papaya plant looks like. That’s right: It’s a plant, not a tree. Although the plants have a central trunk, grow up to 30 feet high, and for all intents and purposes look exactly like trees, technically, these are large herbaceous plants.

More: Papayas are the source of papain, a meat tenderizer -- did you know that kiwifruit can be used to tenderize meat too


The fruit is generally harvested when still green (and can be used in its unripe state), but if you're hoping to enjoy your papaya when it's ripe, look for specimens that have some yellow on the skin (3, below). Papayas will continue to ripen at room temperature (and you can put them in a paper bag to speed up the process), but if they're completely green, it’s unlikely that they will fully ripen. They’re ripe when they’re slightly soft (and for most types, when the skin is mostly or all yellow), at which point they can be refrigerated for up to a week. The ripe flesh (2 -- but ours isn't as ripe as it could be) comes in all the colors of a sunset: from golden yellow to fiery orange to salmon-red.

In the U.S., papayas are mainly grown in Hawaii, where their peak season is early summer and fall, but they can be found in grocery stores almost year round. If you're looking for a green papaya, check Asian markets.


If you’re willing to go to extremes for a perfect-tasting fruit, follow the technique Elizabeth Schneider learned from a Brazilian cooking teacher: “She scored the fruit lengthwise in quarters, cutting delicately through the skin, but not into the flesh, then turned the fruit onto its narrow stem end, set it in a glass so it wouldn’t tip, and instructed me to leave it for a day. It was certainly the sweetest papaya I’ve ever had in this country.” 

More: Papayas are sometimes called pawpaws, but pawpaws are an unrelated fruit of their own.

Cut Papaya

Whether you're eating them ripe or green, or nibbling on the edible seeds (1, above), here are nine ways to start working more papayas into your repertoire: 

  • Use ripe papaya in a salsa with peppers and corn.
  • Halved and de-seeded, the papaya forms its own bowl: Treat it like a small melon or avocado, and fill it up. (Grain salad? Coconut gelato? It's up to you!)
  • Add chunks (4) of ripe papaya to a fruit salad.
  • ChezHenry calls a ripe papaya, served chilled with a squeeze of lime, “a righteous start to your day.” We can't argue with that.
  • Blend ripe papaya into smoothies or shakes.
  • Use ripe papayas to make sorbet or ice cream.
  • Make Thai green papaya salad with unripe papayas -- if Molly Wizenberg wants to make something every day of the summer, you know it has to be good.
  • Add shredded green papaya to Pad Thai Spring Rolls, as edamame2003 recommends.
  • Fernetaboutit finds the strong peppery taste of papaya seeds perfect for sprinkling on salads. 

Tell us: How do you like to use papayas?

Photos by Mark Weinberg

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Dana
  • Miles de Ithaca
    Miles de Ithaca
  • Diana B
    Diana B
  • Emilia Rosa
    Emilia Rosa
  • Chaz Brenchley
    Chaz Brenchley
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Dana May 13, 2022
Looking for suggesting on how to eat an almost but not quite ripe apaya. Tips to help improve the flavour?
Miles D. August 16, 2014
1. if a person is going to enjoy a dinner with many proteins, with many meats, you can eat papaya, and get a lot better digestion, its amazing
2. if you have a wound that is not closing, which is not healing, or burned skin, you can heal it, if you put green papaya peel on the wound.
Emilia R. August 16, 2014
I knew of aloe vera is used for burns and wounds, but I never heard of papaya healing wounds and burns--living and learning!
Diana B. August 11, 2014
MrsK, thanks for publishing that! I meant to ask you for it when you mentioned the recipe because it sounded just fabulous.
Emilia R. August 11, 2014
I just published the recipe for Papaya with Cassis (Creme de Papaya com Cassis in Portuguese). In case anyone is interested it's here:
Lindsay-Jean H. August 11, 2014
Seconding Diana B, thanks for sharing, I'm excited to try it!
Emilia R. August 10, 2014
Papayas are very common in Brazil; I actually had a tree right outside my kitchen window. But we call "papaya" the very small ones. The large (which are cheaper) are called "mamão"--and don't even try to pronounce it: no other language has anything even close to our "ão," lol! When I still lived in Brazil there was a very trendy dessert made by blending papaya (the small one), vanilla ice cream and Crème de Cassis! Oh, goodness, it's SO good. A Brazilian friend of mine always makes it for me when we go over for dinner. Then, there is the therapeutic use of papaya... So, be very careful, don't eat too much of it, because it has the same result of eating prunes!!!
Chaz B. August 10, 2014
I use chunked-up or grated green papayas in a mutton curry, both to tenderise the meat and lend an unaccustomed edge to the flavour.
aargersi August 10, 2014
I like a papaya and avocado pico de gallo type salsa with lots of lime an cilantro. It's great on burgers too!
Diana B. August 10, 2014
I have a fabulous (and very, very bad for you) recipe for Baked Papaya Mauna Kea: I don't serve it often, but it's invariably a smash.
Lindsay-Jean H. August 10, 2014
I definitely need to try that.
zarifisk August 10, 2014
I eat it ripe for breakfast, maybe with banana slices or for lunch with fried cheese (halloumi-style) and mint leaves.
Patty R. August 10, 2014
Papaya salad. A surprisingly spicy (ok it's downright searing sometimes) Thai dish made from shredded green papaya with chiles, fish sauce, lime juice and other stuff. My Thai sister in law makes it and serves it with sticky rice.
Joy H. August 10, 2014
A really popular drink from Taiwan is papaya milk, which I also turned into papaya milk popsicles:
Lindsay-Jean H. August 10, 2014
Those popsicles sound great!