Ingredient Introduction #12 – Papaya

I was so excited for this one.

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A tropical stop on my usual produce patrol took me to the papaya.

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For some reason, this one just makes me think of sweet, fragrant, fruity, exotic island life.

I mean, there are lotions, and scrubs, and candles scented like it to help you escape the pains of life, body odor, and dry feet, right?

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The pear-shaped fruit comes in two sizes. Hawaiian papayas are supposedly smaller, while Mexican versions are larger. Well, one of mine came from Brazil and the other from Belize. I found the smaller one at a typical grocery store, and the larger one at The Fresh Market.

If it’s green on the outside, it’s not ripe. It should be yellowish, and slightly soft.

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One you cut it in half lengthwise, you’re dazzled by salmon-colored flesh and little bead-like seeds that resemble caviar on steroids.

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The seeds are actually edible. Closer inspection shows a similarity to the caper, in looks only. The flavor is somewhat like a peppercorn, a softer version. It’s peppery, but there’s also an odd-flavor that’s hard for me to explain. It’s not plasticky or metallic. It’s definitely bitter. Typically, the seeds are used in a vinaigrette (tablespoon or two of seeds, olive oil, vinegar, and pieces of the fruit). Sometimes they’re used as a substitute for capers. Honestly, I didn’t like them enough to use them.

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The flesh itself has to be cut away from the peel like you would a cantaloupe. It’s soft and slippery, almost buttery. The texture can be kind of mealy.

As far as flavor goes, I was let down. Both of the papayas I had lacked a lot of sweetness and that flight to the tropics I was expecting. In fact, the flavor and the scent were somewhat musky. I might even call it earthy.

I tried it in a smoothie (with other ingredients). It was almost feety.

Drying fruit always highlights its natural sweetness, so I tried that route. I cut the papaya into small pieces, and sprinkled some with chili powder.

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Technically, you need low heat to dry or dehydrate, or you have to stay up all night and wait for an infomercial and the promise of 7 easy payments of $35.62.

My oven, for whatever reason, only goes to 170 degrees. So I let the papaya pieces go at 175 for about 8 1/2 hours.

I woke up, excited for my sweet treat.

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Well, the pieces shriveled and turned jagged. The flavor was better and much sweeter, but chewing these shards kind of resembled the feeling of chewing on a folded straw. Maybe I should’ve used bigger pieces.

So, I regret to inform you that this is an ingredient I didn’t like, at all.

I did find a recipe for papaya avocado salad from Giada DeLaurentiis, but the discovery happened after my introduction to this fruit that not only resembles a tear drop, but also causes you to shed one. At five bucks for the large one and two for the smaller one, I’ll be passing on the papaya from here on out.

The only redeeming quality, in my opinion, is the load of vitamins and antioxidants you’ll find in the papaya. But, I’d have to eat it to get the benefits. Shame.

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If you just love this fruit, tell me about it. Maybe I did something wrong? Picked a bad pair? Or just missed the point.

Tip: Don’t be be afraid of a fresh pineapple. I got one for $2.99 and had a blast with it. Just cut off the leaves, then shave down the sides of the fruit. Get rid of all the little scales. Then, cut the fruit in half, and carve out the core. This is a tropical treat. So juicy, so sweet, so tangy. Eat it fresh, or use it in a salad. I mixed the pineapple chunks with chunks of avocado, diced red onion, a drained and rinsed can of black beans, lime juice and zest, and salt. You get creaminess, sweetness, saltiness, a zing, and a beam of sunshine.

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