Eat Local Spotlight: Papaya

Plenty of Papaya


Fruit of the Angels

Referred to by Christopher Columbus as “the fruit of the angels” and called papaw in Australia, mamao in Brazil, and fruita bomba in Cuba, papaya is believed to have been introduced to Hawaii in the early 1800s.  Today, our state is the only place in the nation where papaya is grown commercially.

Molokai’s Kumu Farms began growing papaya in the late 1990s when the papaya ringspot virus began devastating Big Island production of the iconic tropical fruit. Molokai’s isolation was a blessing as there was no ringspot virus there, explains Kumu Farms owner and general manager Grant Schule. The farm is thus able to produce a non-GMO Sunrise papaya which is difficult to grow elsewhere in the state. Kumu Farms also grows leafy greens and other vegetables, but papaya is its dominant crop.  In fact, Kumu Farms produces more than a million pounds of papaya in an average year with two-thirds staying right here in Hawaii for us to enjoy.

Here’s more you might like to know about local papayas:

Sweet Sunrise: Because Kumu Farms harvests fewer papayas than other farms and throws away fewer fruit, it sends more irregular fruit (less symmetrical, or with slight abrasions that don’t affect flavor or texture) to market. “When consumers are willing to buy fruit that’s not as pretty, but tastes just as good, it helps the local farmers,” says Grant.  Such customer flexibility allows farmers to sell more—and waste less.

For Your Health and Beauty: There’s more reason than taste to go pupule for papaya! Low in calories and cholesterol-free, papayas are packed with minerals, vitamins and dietary fiber. They’re well-known to help digestion and have been touted as stomach-soothing, anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic and immunity boosting. Papayas are also full of enzymes, making them useful as a beauty treatment to brighten and exfoliate skin.

Perfect Pick: “You want to pick one that has some color,” advises Grant. “It takes about seven days to go from the first color break to full ripeness. Never refrigerate them unless they’re fully ripe,” he cautions. “But if you’ve bought one that ripens before you’re ready to eat it, then it’s okay to store it in the refrigerator.”

Go Green: Grant’s favorite papaya dish is Vietnamese-style green papaya salad. Unripe papaya can be prepared in a manner similar to squash and eaten in a variety of dishes ranging from cold salads made from the shredded flesh to savory, comforting stews. Try marinating tough stew beef with some chopped green papaya — seeds and all — and you’ll see what a great tenderizer it can be.

Sow the Seeds:  Papaya seeds resemble peppercorns and are edible. They can be ground and used as a substitute for black pepper, and will add a sharp, peppery taste to foods. Try them in our Papaya Seed Dressing recipe!

Did You Know?
Sliced Papaya

Unripe green papaya contains an enzyme called papain which is known to break down protein.  A natural meat tenderizer, papain can also be used to treat indigestion and sports injuries, and reduce pain, swelling, and fluid retention.  The actor Harrison Ford is said to have received papain injections to relieve pain from a ruptured disc injury he suffered while filming Indiana Jones and theTemple of Doom.


Papaya Seed Dressing

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Papaya Seed Dressing
Makes 6 Servings

Hawaii’s favorite salad dressing is sweet, tart, and tasty!  Its slight peppery kick comes from ground papaya seeds.
  • 1/2 cup fresh papaya, cut in cubes
  • 3 tablespoons papaya seeds and pulp
  • 4 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  1. Place papaya, papaya seeds and pulp in a blender and puree until smooth.
  2. Add the vinegar, agave nectar, Dijon mustard, ginger, salt and pepper and blend.
  3. Slowly add the olive oil while blending.
  4. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on salad.

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