The papaya is a tropical fruit that is commonly found in supermarkets around the world. They get a fair bit of negative feedback for having an unpleasant taste and aroma. But if you’ve ever visited the Philippines, Thailand or any other tropical country you may have had the pleasure of tasting what a papaya should really taste like. Sweet, juicy and tropical.
The problem is that in the United States and other Western Countries, we aren’t very skilled at choosing the right time to eat papaya. An unripe or overripe papaya won’t taste good. On this page, we’ll look at what papaya tastes like as well as advice on when to eat it, storage tips and preparation ideas.
Quick Tip: Papayas and pawpaws are often mixed up and confused as they look similar. Do you know the difference? If you’re not 100% across the difference then check out our comparison of these two fruits here.
What does papaya taste like?
Unripe papaya will be odorless and taste bitter. The juice is corrosive and can burn human skin causing a lot of pain and discomfort. If your papaya has no smell then allow it to continue ripening until it does.
A papaya that’s ripe and ready for eating will have a mild, sweet tropical flavor; a cross between a mango and a cantaloupe. Its texture will be soft and creamy so chewing should hardly be required. You can easily identify a ripe papaya by its sweet smelling aroma.
Papaya that’s overripe will have gone past a mildly sweet aroma and have progressed to a sickly sweet level. The smell isn’t pleasant and it’s an effective warning signal that you should toss out that piece of fruit and buy (or grow if you live in a warm climate) a replacement.
Related reading: What are the best papaya substitutes?
Can you eat papaya seeds?
Papaya seeds add a nutritional kick to your food but they won’t be to everyone’s taste. The best way to describe the seeds in one word would be bitter. If you don’t like strong flavors then take a wide berth from the papaya seed. Most will scrape out the seeds and discard.
Note: Papaya seeds may cause health complications so do your research before consuming them.
Testing if your papaya is ready to eat
Develop the skills to test your papaya and you’ll have a useful skill that’ll never let you down! Here’s a helpful process to follow:
- Smell the area around the stem to ensure it mildly sweet. No smell means it is under-ripe and an overbearing sickly sweet smell (or a smelly feet aroma) is telling you it’s past best and should be discarded.
- Visually look at the papaya and try to identify any mold, especially around the stem. The yellow skin should have an orange glow.
- Is your papaya deep orange in color or covered in dark bruises? That is a sign your fruit is overripe.
- Lightly squeeze the papaya: overly soft papaya signals it has gone off.
- Once the papaya is sliced open you should see reddish-pink flesh.
How to ripen a papaya
If you buy papaya that’s ripe then you’ll want to refrigerate it and eat it within 2-3 days. Any longer and its flesh will start to break down.
Unripe papaya can be placed into a paper bag and folded over at the top to create a seal. Allow your fruit to sit on the bench until ripened. In a hurry to eat it? You can speed up the ripening process by placing an apple in the bag as well. This technique also helps with ripening a pineapple.
- Use a large sharp knife (a chef’s knife a good option) to slice the papaya in half lengthwise.
- Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard, unless you have a plan for using them.
- Peel the skin using a knife then slice the flesh into suitably sized pieces.
Papaya is the key building block for a refreshing smoothie. Blend natural yoghurt with mango, passionfruit, dragonfruit, strawberries, and blueberries. Breakfast in a glass!
One of the best ways to eat papaya is also the simplest. It's delicious on its own, sliced and de-seeded. You can also use a melon baller to scoop out bite-sized balls that can be smothered in cream.
A healthy dish that's refreshing and light. This is a tasty meal for hot summer weather. Shred onions and carrots then chop tomatoes, green beans, and papaya. Douse in your favorite dressing.
Papaya is a controversial fruit; some love it, others loathe it. With most fruit, if you eat them a little under or over-ripe it's not a big problem. Papaya needs to be eaten at the right time or it won't be enjoyable. Ripe papaya has a lovely mild, sweet, tropical taste and a creamy soft texture. Its vibrant yellowish-orange flesh makes it a good addition to salads, stir-fries, desserts or simply eaten on its own.