Papaya

PapayaPapaya — The papaya (from Carib via Spanish), is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya, in the genus Carica. It is native to the tropics of the Americas, and was cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classic cultures. However the North American pawpaw is a different species, in the genus Asimina.

It is a large tree-like plant, the single stem growing from 5 to 10 meters tall, with spirally arranged leaves confined to the top of the trunk; the lower trunk is conspicuously scarred where leaves and fruit were borne. The leaves are large, 50-70 cm diameter, deeply palmately lobed with 7 lobes. The tree is usually unbranched if unlopped. The flowers are similar in shape to the flowers of the Plumeria but are much smaller and wax like. They appear on the axils of the leaves, maturing into the large 15-45 cm long, 10-30 cm diameter fruit. The fruit is ripe when it feels soft (like a ripe avocado or a bit softer) and its skin has attained an amber to orange hue. The fruit’s taste is vaguely similar to pineapple and peach, although much milder without the tartness, creamier, and more fragrant, with a texture of slightly over-ripened cantaloupe.

Green papaya fruit and the trees latex are both rich in an enzyme called papain, a protease which is useful in tenderizing meat and other proteins. Its ability to break down tough meat fibers was utilized for thousands of years by indigenous Americans. It is included as a component in powdered meat tenderizers, and is also marketed in tablet form to remedy digestive problems. Green papaya is used in Thai cuisine, both raw and cooked. Papain is also popular (in countries where it grows) as a topical application in the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings and burns. Papain ointment is commonly made from fermented papaya flesh, and is applied as a gel-like paste. Harrison Ford was treated for a ruptured disc incurred during filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom by having papain injected into his back.

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