Reportedly declared, “the fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus, papayas, like explorers, have made their way from Central America and the Indias to Hawaii, Mexico and Florida. I never much liked this fruit, preferring a deliciously sweet mango over the blandness of papaya. Then I encountered the strawberry papaya. Sweeter and less acidic than a traditional papaya, the strawberry papaya combines the flavours of melon and berry, in a beautiful fragrant, pink flesh. Like a regular papaya, the centre cavity contains round, black edible seeds, although their peppery flavour is somewhat bitter. When choosing a strawberry papaya, make sure the fruit gives to gentle pressure, and is unblemished with yellow colouring on the skin to ensure it is ripening. Not only is unripe papaya bitter and unappealing, it can be dangerous to pregnant women, causing early labour or miscarriage. Also, those with latex allergies should avoid all types of papaya as allergic reaction may occur, especially when eaten unripe. Papayas can be ripened over several days at room temperature in a plastic bag along with a couple of bananas which speed the ripening process. When ready to eat, cut the papaya lengthwise and remove the seeds. The possibilites from here are plentiful and diverse. Slice into wedges, then squeeze with lemon or lime. Use a melon baller to scoop out the fruit and place back in the papaya ‘bowl’ with a mixture of other fruits. Cottage cheese and ice cream make delicious, refreshing fillings to the centre of the fruit as well. In addition to using in salsas, jams and chutney, strawberry papayas can also be stuffed with chicken salad, fish and other meats, as well as vegetables, then grilled or baked. A natural meat tenderizer, the papaya can also be mashed and added to marinades. Strawberry papayas are rich in Vitamin C, contain, folate, fibre and potassium and are a good source of Vitamins E, A and K. They also contain anti-oxidant properties, which intensify as the papaya ripens. For taste, nutrition and versatility, the strawberry papaya is absolutely divine.
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