So Berry Good: Part I
Technically, the papaya (Carica papaya) is a berry… and, it’s my favorite. I wasn’t always a fan of papaya. My grandmother used to grow it in her yard when I was a kid. I couldn’t stand the flavor. When I was eleven-years-old I decided to give it another try.
We were in Jamaica where the papaya was so beautifully presented on the plate that I couldn’t resist. It had fresh lime squeezed all over it and the lime slices were also used as a garnish. One bite and I was hooked for life. The turning point for me was the fresh lime. Whenever somebody tells me they don’t like papaya, I suggest they try it with fresh lime juice… they become converts.
In the West Indies, the leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach. They are also applied topically to cuts and bruises. The papaya is a healthy fruit with vitamin C, potassium, carotenoids, phosphorus, folate and fiber. It has an enzyme, called papain, that has the power of digesting 300 times its own volume of protein. It has a soothing effect on the stomach and aids the digestion of food.
The papaya’s seeds are rich in laetrile and also contain the papain enzyme. The seeds of any fruit, except citrus, have laetrile that occurs naturally. Papaya’s seeds are very spicy tasting… like pepper, and are commonly used as a pepper substitute.
To prepare the seeds as a pepper substitute, soak the seeds overnight and then bake them at 150 degrees in the oven for about 5 hours. I like to dehydrate my seeds in my dehydrator and then add a few of them to my pepper grinder along with pimento berries and peppercorns. My mom told me that she always eats a few fresh seeds when she is cutting a papaya. I live by the motto, everything in moderation. We consume the seeds in moderation due to the laetrile in them.
The papaya is really easy to cut and prepare. The fruit and outer peeling is soft like butter. It can be sliced right down the middle and cut in half. Then, gently scoop the seeds out with a spoon, fork or even your fingers. I simply slice fresh papaya for my family to enjoy.
Sometimes I use the de-seeded halved papaya as a bowl for salsa or cooked shrimp. When I’m making it for myself I skip the preparation. I scoop the seeds out, douse it with squeezed lime and dig in with a spoon (a grapefruit spoon is a handy papaya eating utensil.).
Scientists are researching papaya and its cancer fighting properties. I’ve been told a hundred times in Jamaica that papaya (“paw-paw” as they call it in Jamaica) “scare deh cancer”. Jamaicans have always used food as medicine.
How long has it been since you tried some papaya? “Ya mon, yuh muss try dem.”
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