June is National Papaya Month! As a frequent visitor to Mexico, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy this fruit from seeing how it grows to picking and eating it. Finding papayas in Alaska isn’t as easy, but when in season, they can be found on sale and sometimes they even end up in the dollar bin. Don’t be afraid to give this tropical, pear-shaped fruit a try if you haven’t already.

As with all fruits and vegetables, the papaya is a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. It contains vitamins A and B and is an excellent source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Papayas come in various forms, sizes, thickness, color and flavor of flesh, and they can grow up to 20 inches.

When selecting a papaya, you want to make sure it feels heavy for its size and is free of cuts and bruises. If the skin is a yellow-green, it may need time to ripen first, which can be done at room temperature for a couple of days (putting it in a paper bag speeds up the process). Once it’s ripe, the skin has more of a bright yellow color and it can be placed in the fridge. It should be good for about a week until ready to be cut and served. It can also be peeled, cut up and placed in a freezer bag to freeze for later use in smoothies and other recipes.

Here’s some interesting history from “Fruits of Warm Climates,” a book by Julia Morton. “The papaya is believed to be native to tropical America, perhaps in southern Mexico and neighboring Central America. It is recorded that seeds were taken to Panama and then the Dominican Republic before 1525, and cultivation spread to warm elevations throughout South and Central America, southern Mexico, the West Indies and Bahamas, and to Bermuda in 1616. Spaniards carried seeds to the Philippines about 1550 and the papaya traveled from there to Malacca and India. Seeds were sent from India to Naples in 1626.

“Now the papaya is familiar in nearly all tropical regions of the Old World and the Pacific Islands and has become naturalized in many areas. Seeds were probably brought to Florida from the Bahamas. Up to about 1959, the papaya was commonly grown in southern and central Florida in home gardens and on a small commercial scale.” For more information, you can go to bit.ly/2WtE4DK.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little about the papaya. I love to just cut up papaya and eat it as is but it is also great in smoothies and as a yogurt, oatmeal or cereal topping, too. Enjoy this smoothie recipe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at bit.ly/2KsLFLA.


Batido smoothie

Makes: 4 servings

Prep time: 10 minutes

This refreshing smoothie is a blend of papaya, banana and yogurt and makes a satisfying part of breakfast or any time of day. Mix in frozen or fresh berries for a variety of flavors.

2 cups papaya chunks (fresh or frozen)

2 bananas (overripe, sliced)

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 cup ice cubes (less needed when using frozen fruits)

Put all the ingredients in the blender. Put the lid on tightly. Turn the blender to a medium setting and blend until the ice is chopped and the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to four hours. 

One cup of low-fat milk, soy, rice, almond or coconut milk can be used instead of yogurt. Strawberries, blueberries or raspberries can be used in addition to or instead of papaya.

Reina Hasting is a coordinator with Extension’s Family Nutrition Program, which is administered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at rhhasting@alaska.edu or 907-474-2437.