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The papaya (Carica papaya) is widely distributed in most tropical countries and islands, where it thrives in the warm climate. Papaya plants are extremely common in Singapore and are often cultivated in private gardens. In 1993, special stamps featuring the papaya, amongst other local fruits, were issued as part of the Singapore Philatelic Bureau's Nature Series - Local Fruits.
Origins and Distribution
Although its exact origins in tropical America remain unknown, the papaya is thought to have come from Central America or Mexico. The papaya first appeared in the Dominican Republic and Panama in the early 16th Century. The plant only reached the Southeast Asian region in 1550, when Spaniards brought the seeds to the Philippines. The Portuguese and the Spaniards then promoted the plant in the neighbouring Malay Peninsula and the Indies.
The papaya tree, as it is erroneously called, is actually a large, herbaceous plant because it lacks woody tissues. A member of the small Caricacaea family, it has a slender, knobbly stem that grows up to 30 ft. The trunk is hollow and remains unbranched unless the tip is damaged. The trunk is topped by a spiral of large, long-stemmed leaves. Leaves are simple, but severely lobed and often span 2 ft in diameter. They have prominent veins and are medium to light green above, fading to a drab, greyish green below. In both the stem and leaves, a thick, milky white latex is found. This latex can cause severe irritations, so care must be taken when handling the plant. The plant matures rapidly, often producing fruits by the second year. Flowers are fleshy, cream coloured and have a sweet fragrance. Due to the numerous varieties, fruits vary greatly in size and shape, ranging from large pendulous fruits to small ovoid ones. The thin skin of the fruit is green and on ripening, can be anything from light yellow to reddish orange. The central portion of the fruit forms a five-angled hollow in which small black seeds can be found in abundance. The seeds are covered by a layer of transparent gel and are attached to the hollow by soft, thread-like tissue. The sweet flesh again varies in colour from cream to salmon pink. It has a soft, melon-like consistency and an agreeable flavour. Commercially cultivated hybrids such as the Hawaiian or Solo tend to be smaller than their original counterparts but compensate by tasting much better.
Usage and Potential
The raw fruit is a rich source of nutrition as it is high in vitamins A, B, C and rich in calcium. It is typically eaten chilled as a dessert fruit, or with a dash of lime juice. However, it is not uncommon to find chunks of crystallised papaya (halwa betek) or sun-dried strips in local shops and markets. Papaya jam can be made by mashing partially ripened papayas with sugar and a bit of ginger. Papaya cubes or balls are also found in canned tropical fruit salads. Other foods include papaya juice, puree, yoghurt and baby food. Unripe papayas are commonly used as a vegetable throughout the region. The Filipino Atchara is a relish consisting of green papaya, onions, peppers and other vegetables. The immature fruits are also boiled and eaten or preserved as pickles. New leaves are sometimes cooked and served in the East Indies, while the stem caters as a vegetable in some parts of Africa. Oil extracted from papaya seeds is of very high quality and is excellent as a salad dressing.
Recent studies show that the papaya may hold the cure to the deadly AIDS virus. Researchers in the Philippines believe that eating papaya could help boost the immune system and reduce the viral load of HIV in some patients. Papaya juice is sometimes employed in pharmaceuticals as it can be used to remove blemishes. Latex obtained from unripe fruits is used in folk medicine to treat warts and corns. It is also believed to aid in digestion. The seeds of the papaya are used in folk medicine as a vermifuge or to induce an abortion. They are otherwise never eaten.
The papaya stem and immature fruit contain protein digesting enzymes, known as papain and chymopapain. The green fruits are tapped for their latex and the proteolytic enzymes extracted for commercial use. Perhaps it's most important usage is as a meat tenderiser. It is common for locals to either rub meat with a piece of green papaya, or to include it with the meat while cooking. Sometimes, meat is wrapped in papaya leaves and left overnight for the same purpose. Abattoir holders also inject commercial papain into cattle prior to slaughter in order to tenderise the meat. Apart from this, papain is also utilised in various industries. These include leather tanners, breweries and chewing gum manufacturers. In poor countries, papaya leaves are used as a substitute for soap.
Common name: Papaya.
Scientific name: Carica papaya.
Malay name: Betik.
Other Names: Pawpaw, Tree melon, Melon Zapote.
Allen, B. M. (1967). Malayan Fruits (pp. 34-37). Singapore: Donald Moore Press.
(Call no.: RCLOS 634.09595 ALL)
Burkill, I. H. (1966). A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula (pp. 464-469). Malaysia: Ministry Of Agriculture and Co-Operatives.
(Call no.: RSING 634.909595 BUR)
Hutton, W. (1996). Tropical fruits of Malaysia & Singapore (p. 38). Hong Kong: Eric M. Oey.
(Call no.: RSING 634.6 HUT)
Piper, J. M. (1989). Fruits of South-East Asia (pp. 13-16). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 634.60959 PIP)
Papaya could hold key to AIDS cure. (1998, October 25). Gulf News.
The many wonders of the papaya. (1996, October 25). Bernama Malaysian National News Agency.
Local fruits on stamps. (1993, September 7). The Straits Times, p. 20.
Retrieved February 3, 1999, from agrolink.moa.my/doa/english/croptech/bet_gen.html.
Morton, J. (1987). Papaya [Electronic version]. In Morton, J. F., Fruits of warm climates. Retrieved May 26, 1999, from newcrop.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/papaya_ars.html
Yadava, U. L., Burris, J. A., & McCrary, D. (1990). Papaya: A potential annual crop under middle Georgia conditions [Electronic version]. In Janick, J, & Simons, J. E. (Eds.). Advances in new crops. Retrieved May 26, 1999, from newcrop.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/V1-364.html.
Nematodes threat to papaya. (1998, October 22). The Hindu.
The information in this article is valid as at 1999 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.