One fruit that has been getting some attention these days is papaya. Originally from southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America, the papaya is now grown in most countries with a tropical climate. History records showed that Spaniards carried seeds to the Philippines about 1550.
“Papaya is considered as one of the favorite fruits that abound all year round,” said the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology. “It offers not only its luscious taste and golden yellow color but also its many health benefits.”
The papaya pulp is basically very sweet in taste, fiberless and refreshing. Some liken the flavor to melon and apricot. It is used in salads, pies, sherbets, juices, jam, jelly and confectionery.
“Low in calories and full of nutrition, papaya has more vitamin C than an orange,” says Amy Tousman, a registered dietitian based in Hawaii. “It’s loaded with vitamin A, potassium, folate and fiber. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, substances which help protect our eyes from age-related blindness.”
According to FNRI, papaya is a rich source of antioxidants such as folic acid, fiber, carotenes, vitamin C and E. “Antioxidants promote the health of the cardiovascular system and also provide protection against colon cancer,” FNRI said in a statement.
Likewise, papaya helps in the prevention of atherosclerosis, diabetes and heart disease. Folic acid found in papaya is needed for the conversion of a substance called homocysteine, an amino acid. If unconverted, homocysteine can directly damage blood vessel walls and if levels get too high, it is considered a significant risk factor to heart attack and strokes. Papaya is also a good source of fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels and helps in easing the discomforts constipation. The fiber is able to bind to cancer toxins in the colon and keep them away from the healthy colon cells. In addition, vitamins C and E found in papaya are all associated with reduced risk of colon cancer. The pigment in the fruit called carotene is similar to that of carrots and squash. Carotene in food is converted into vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight. Papaya is also an ideal food for those with difficulty chewing and those who are smoking.The comparative low calorie content of papaya makes it a favorite fruit of obese people who are into a weight-reducing regimen. One small slice of ripe papaya or three-fourths (3/4) cup contains 40 kilocalories. Studies at the University of Nigeria have revealed that extracts of ripe and unripe papaya fruits and of the seeds are active against gram-positive bacteria. Strong doses are effective against gram-negative bacteria. The substance has protein-like properties. The fresh crushed seeds yield the aglycone of glucotropaeolin benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC) which is bacteriostatic, bactericidal and fungicidal. A single effective does is 4-5 g seeds (25-30 milligrams BITC).
In a London hospital in 1977, a post-operative infection in a kidney-transplant patient was cured by strips of papaya which were laid on the wound and left for 48 hours, after all modern medications had failed.
The milk-like juice from unripe papaya fruit, called latex, is widely used to remove warts, freckles, and other blemishes. Researchers discovered that the latex is a chief source of papain, a protease which is useful in tenderizing meat and other proteins. Crushed leaves wrapped around tough meat will tenderize it overnight.
“Because of its papain content,” wrote Julia F. Morton in her book, ‘Fruits of Warm Climates,’ “a piece of green papaya can be rubbed on a portion of tough meat to tenderize it. Sometimes a chunk of green papaya is cooked with meat for the same purpose.”
Papain is also popular as a topical application in the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings and burns. Papain ointment is commonly made from fermented papaya flesh, and is applied as a gel-like paste. Perhaps not too many have known that Hollywood actor Harrison Ford was treated for a ruptured disc incurred during filming of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom by having papain injected into his back.
Papain has been employed to treat ulcers, dissolve membranes in diphtheria, and reduce swelling, fever and adhesions after surgery. The papaya enzyme is currently being studied for possible relief of cancer therapy side effects and rheumatoid arthritis.
Papain has many other practical applications. It is used to clarify beer, also to treat wool and silk before dyeing, to de-hair hides before tanning, and it serves as an adjunct in rubber manufacturing. It is reportedly applied on tuna liver before extraction of the oil which is thereby made richer in vitamins A and D. Papain is also part in the preparation of some toothpastes, cosmetics and detergents.
But here’s a hitch: “There can be risks in ingesting papain,” warns Tousman. “Papain supplements and green papayas may increase the risk of miscarriage. Pregnant woman should only use them under medical supervision.” Seeds, too, may bring on abortion. But ripe papaya is safe to eat during pregnancy.
In some parts of the world, green fruits are harvested as vegetables. Some studies have shown that unripe papaya fruits are toxic and so they must be cooked before eaten. Raw green papaya is frequently used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. In the Philippines, it is a common ingredient in chicken ‘tinola.’ Even for use in salads, it must first be peeled, seeded, and boiled until tender, then chilled.
Aside from fruits, other parts of papaya can also be eaten. In the East Indies, young leaves are also eaten like spinach but they are cooked first. Studies have shown that papaya leaves contain the bitter alkaloids (carpaine and pseudocarpaine), which act on the heart and respiration like digitalis, but are destroyed by heat.
In the Philippines, bruised papaya leaves are used as poultice in treating rheumatism, according to the Department of Agriculture. “In nervous pains, leaves can be dipped in hot water or warmed over a fire and applied,” the government agency informs. “As purgative, one tablespoon of the fresh fruit juice mixed with honey and 3 to 4 tablespoons of boiling water is taken one draught by an adult; two hours later, it is followed by a dose of castor oil. This treatment is repeated for 2 days, if necessary, for children aged 7 to 10 years old. The children under 3 years, half the dose is given.”
In Indonesia, papaya flowers are sometimes candied. Young stems are cooked and served in Africa. Older stems, after peeling, are grated, the bitter juice squeezed out, and the mash mixed with sugar and salt. The seeds, pleasantly mustard flavored, may be eaten, although they may have medicinal properties. Some speculate that they may be the mustard seeds referred to in the Bible.
Collaborating chemists in Italy and Somalia identified 18 amino acids in papaya seeds. A yellow to brown, faintly scented oil was extracted from the sundried, powdered seeds of unripe papayas at the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, India.
“This low-calorie, nutritious and affordable all-season fruit must be included in your regular diet to ensure that you have a healthy body,” FNRI urges. — ###