Carica papaya is a plant native to Central America and Mexico. Though this plant looks like a tree, it is actually a herbaceous perennial. Today, it is grown in almost all tropical regions of the world. Carica papaya is a fast growing plant that can reach a height of about 5 to 10 meters, with large, lobed leaves that appear from the upper part of the stem. The flowers are fleshy and waxy, and have five petals. Some plants produce bisexual flowers, while others can produce only male or female flowers. However, you can also find both male and female flowers in the same plant.

The plant produces spherical or pear-shaped fruits. There are mainly two varieties of papayas - Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian variety can be identified by its bright, yellow skin, and equally bright orange or pinkish flesh, when it is ripe. The Mexican variety has yellow to orange, or pinkish flesh. The ripe fruit is eaten raw. It is very sweet and juicy with a musky flavor. For its delicious taste, the papaya was called the 'fruit of the angels' by Christopher Columbus. In addition to its delectable taste, this fruit is a source of many essential nutrients.

The Goodness of Papaya

This fruit is considered one of the richest sources of vitamin C. In fact, the vitamin C content of this fruit is more than that of an orange. However, vitamin C is not the only nutrient found in this fruit. This fruit is also rich in vitamin A, E, and B, and antioxidants like carotene, zeaxanthin, and flavonoids. Even several important minerals, like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron are found in this fruit.

100 gm of raw papaya contains about 9.8 g carbohydrates, 5.9 g sugars, 1.8 g fiber, 0.6 g protein, 61.8 mg vitamin C, 0.9 mg vitamin E, 284 IU of vitamin A, 24 mg calcium, 10 mg magnesium, 257 mg potassium, 5 mg phosphorus, and about 0.10 mg of iron. 140g of papaya contains approximately 55 calories. Apart from these, this fruit contains the proteolytic enzymes papain and chymopapain, which can break down proteins into amino acids. This is the reason why it is widely used for tenderizing meat.

Potential Health Benefits

With so many essential nutrients, this fruit can promote the health of the immune, digestive, and the cardiovascular system. It is more commonly used to improve digestion, and prevent some common digestive problems, like indigestion and bloating. It contains the enzymes papain and chymopapain, that can digest protein and convert it to amino acids. Additionally, the fruit contains a high amount of dietary fiber, that can also promote digestive health.

This fruit can boost the health of the cardiovascular system as well. As mentioned already, it is a good source of vitamin A, C, and E, all of which are powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants can prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. The oxidation of cholesterol is considered one of the most important risk factors for plaque formation within the blood vessels, which in turn can increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks. The antioxidants found in this fruit can boost the immune system, and improve its ability to fight infectious agents. They can also protect the cells and tissues from the oxidative damage caused by the free radicals.

The papaya has anti-inflammatory properties, for which it can be effective in relieving inflammation. This medicinal property can be attributed to the enzymes and antioxidants present in this fruit. The enzyme papain, if applied topically, has been found to treat cuts, rashes, and minor burns quite effectively. Even individuals with inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can benefit by including this fruit in their diet, as it is a good source of vitamin C and E. Several studies have found that vitamin C may provide protection against diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

This fruit can be eaten in various ways. The ripe ones can be eaten raw, after removing the skin and the seeds, while the unripe papayas can be cooked to make excellent curries. They can also be added to salads. However, to retain its nutritional benefits, make sure that you do not peel the skin too deeply, as the enzyme papain is found to be present very close to the skin.