Colorful and tasty, the sweet papaya fruit grows from the papaya tree. With round, oblong, and pear-like shapes, papayas have a succulent inner flesh that has enchanted the fresh produce market for years. But, is papaya a vegetable or a fruit?
The Science About Papaya: Fruit or Vegetable?
In a botanical sense, the term 'fruit' describes the part of any herbaceous plant that houses a female reproductive system. Normally edible at the time of their maturity, a fruit contains one or more seeds. As is the case with papaya, the ovary of a plant produces new seeds after fertilization, and grows large to make room for a protective casing to cover them.
FRUITS CAN BE FLESHY, SOFT, LARGE, SMALL, SMOOTH, OR ROUGHLY-SURFACED, BUT THEY ALL HAVE ONE THING IN COMMON: THEY ALL CONTAIN ONE SEED OR MORE.
Meanwhile, the term 'vegetable' is not at all rooted in science. Having more to do with usage and taste, it is a culturally-charged word that refers to the edible parts of a crop, including its flowers, leaves, stems, roots, and tubers. Plants cataloged as vegetables include celery, cabbage, and broccoli, for example. Mostly for culinary purposes, some fruits are also considered vegetables because of their low sugar content and the manner in which they are prepared; such is the case of avocados, pumpkins, and tomatoes.
Papaya is a Fruit
Although they vary in their size, shape, and overall flavor, all papaya fruits emerge from the reproductive system of a fertilized papaya flower. The papaya seeds are black, ovoid, and plentiful, enclosed within the juicy, flesh-filled membrane of the enlarged plant ovary.
PAPAYA SEEDS CONTAIN AN OUTER LAYER OF GELATINOUS GOO THAT KEEPS THEM FROM GERMINATING INSIDE OF THE FRUIT.
Comparable to some other popular fruits, such as honeydew melons and cantaloupes, the papaya is actually considered a berry fruit. Berries are a kind of fruit characterized by fleshy, seed-filled plant parts that develop from a single flower's ovary.
Fresh, raw papaya fruits are normally consumed for their sweet pulp and refreshing flavor, but they are just as often juiced, candied, baked into desserts, or preserved in jams and syrupy canned goods. In such cases, the papaya is very representative of the way most fruits are prepared for culinary purposes.
On the other hand, bland and bitter, the unripe, green papaya is often used in savory recipes. Of significant culinary use, it is cooked with tough meats to tenderize them, and also julienned like a vegetable and served in salads and seafood dishes, or alongside buttery noodles and rice.
In conclusion, to the popular question about the real nature of papaya: fruit or vegetable? the answer is far more complex than you might think. While the botanic definition is clear, depending on the use, it really all boils down to intent. With innumerable applications in modern-day cuisine, papaya can be considered both a sweet fruit and a savory vegetable.
- Eat Raw, Not Cooked, pp. 98 - 99
- Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Classifying fruit
- Stanford University, Bananas are berries?
- Vegetable Production and Practices, Chapter 1, Vegetable history, nomenclature, and classification
- World Agroforestry Centre, Carica papaya
- University of California, Cooperative Extension, Vegetable Research & Information Center, Frequently Asked Questions