Food Profile - Pawpaw (Papaya)

Ripe Pawpaw

Nigeria being in the tropical belt is blessed with an abundance of exotic fruits and vegetables. One of them is the large, oval shaped, green on the outside, and pinkish orange on the inside, fruit generally referred to as pawpaw, papaw or papaya (called ibepe by the Yoruba people of Nigeria).

Pawpaw (this is the common name in Nigeria) is only cultivated in tropical regions and exported across the world, Brazil being the highest producer of the fruit. I was amazed to find out that (according to a FAO report), Nigeria is also a high producer of pawpaw, producing a respectable 12% of the total world production!

Back home when I was growing up, I saw pawpaw trees felt as though they were not purposely planted, they just grew! I suppose the pawpaw tree's method of reproduction accounts for this! Did you know there are male and female pawpaw trees? The female trees bear fruits while the male don't.

Pawpaw has a unique taste and texture and I absolutely love it. The mature and just ripe fruit has a sweet taste with a very crunchy texture, quite similar to carrots. When well ripened, the fruit becomes softer and even sweeter. The fully mature fruit is green on the outside and white on the inside with black round seeds. When ripe the skin begins to turn yellow/orange and the inside is fully orange or sometimes pinkish orange.

Orange coloured ripe pawpaw 

When in season, pawpaw is eaten regularly in Nigeria, plucked from the back garden or bought from the open markets. The ripe fruit is sliced and eaten as it is, often in-between meals, after meals or as a snack. I am not aware of pawpaw being used in Nigerian cooking.

Pawpaw seeds are believed to have some medicinal properties and are used to combat some bacterial infections. I have personally eaten them to relieve an upset tummy and my great uncle swears by their power to cure stomach ulcers!

A sap secreted by the pawpaw tree leaves or bark contains an enzyme known as papain. This enzyme is used as a meat tenderizer (it enables meat cook and soften faster). This enzyme is also believed to have anti-cancer properties and is also an effective skin care ingredient. The sap is used to treat skin infections such as ringworm.

In other parts of the world like Asia, the matured but unripe fruit is used in cooking and in salads. The seeds, when dried are also sometimes used as a substitute for black pepper corns. An odd fact of this fruit is that its seeds are believed to have contraceptive properties, and have been effectively used to that effect in India!

Sliced ripe pawapaw

Nutritional Profile:
Pawpaw has very high levels of Vitamin A and vitamin C. It also has moderate quantities of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin. Some minerals found in pawpaw include Phosphorus, Iron, and Potassium. Rich in natural sugars and dietary fibre.

Nutritional Data (per 100g of chopped pawpaw fruit)
Calories: - 42kcal
Carbohydrates - 8g
Protein - 1g
Fat - 0.3g
Fibre - 2g

Minerals: Potassium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphorous

Vitamins: A, C, E

There aren't that many recipes in which pawpaw is used in Nigerian cuisine. The most common one is in fruit salads. Now discover the exotic tastes and texture of pawpaw in some of my recipes below:
  1. Melons & Pawpaw Salad 
  2. Ripe Pawpaw Bricks 
  3. Ripe Pawpaw & Yoghurt 
  4. Pawpaw Cake 
  5. Pawpaw & Mango Sorbet



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