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Healthy foods: papaya

What is it? The fruit of the papaya tree looks robust: a tough skin, varying from light green to gingery orange, covers vibrant orange or pink flesh and a bundle of black seed pods inside. But papayas must have warmth all year round to thrive. A slight frost can be deadly. So the pear-shaped fruit crops up in tropical climates around the world, like in parts of Australia where the tree is known as the "Paw Paw."

What is it good for? Christopher Columbus reportedly called papaya "fruit of the angels." Heavenly flavour may be one reason, but it could be because papaya's rich nutrients guard and protect our health.

The fruit is high in dietary fibre, potassium, folate, antioxidants vitamins A and E, and it practically overflows with vitamins C, with one papaya providing more than 100% of the recommended daily value. Plus, a digestive enzyme found in papaya, called papain, has potential anti-inflammatory properties.

People have used it to treat burns, inflammation from arthritis, and sports injuries. In fact, after suffering a ruptured disc while filming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, actor Harrison Ford received injections of papain to help dissolve the disk and relieve pain caused by the disk pressing on his nerve.

What does it taste like? A sweet, somewhat musky flavour greets your tongue when you eat a juicy, ripe papaya. The round black seeds inside are edible, too, lending a spicy, peppery, and bitter taste when added to a salad dressing. Papaya flesh can be cubed and snacked on like cantaloupe, plopped into cereals and yogurts, blended into smoothies, or chopped into a salsa.

At the market, you're likely to find either Hawaiian or Mexican papayas. The Hawaiians are smaller but still dense, at about a pound a piece, while the Mexican variety may grow to 10 pounds and over a foot long! The more reddish-orange the skin, the more ready-to-eat a papaya is. A fruit that is still green can be used to make green papaya salad, a Thai food delight.

Amy Toffelmire


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