As a naturopathic physician, one of the main therapies I use in helping restore and maintain health is clinical nutrition. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients which serve a variety of physiological functions. Papayas are near the top of the "good for you" list and I often "prescribe" them for my patients.
Residents and visitors to the Big Island are extremely fortunate to be in a place where papayas are abundant and inexpensive. While living on the mainland, I would regularly browse the produce aisle at local supermarkets for prices they had on papayas. Most of the time, a medium-sized, prematurely-picked, almost tasteless Solo papaya sold for $1.99 to $2.99. So when I first moved to the Big Island from the mainland one of the first things I did was to plant a few papaya trees at the bottom of my property. For the past few weeks I have been trudging up the hill carrying heavy loads of almost ripe, delicious fruit. I thought it might be informative to collect some information on this delicious and abundant produce.
A Bit of History
The papaya tree is native to the south of Mexico, Costa Rica and Central America. In the ancient Mayan civilization, the people honored the papaya tree as their sacred Tree of Life. Some history books mention the papaya as one of the foods Christopher Columbus enjoyed. The story is that when the natives greeted the Columbus party, they were served so much food after months of meager fare at sea, that some experienced digestive pains. To cure this, the natives took them into the forest and fed them papayas, which brought relief. In historical literature, papayas were first mentioned by the Spanish explorer Oviedo in 1526 who observed it growing along the Caribbean coasts of Panama and Colombia. Shortly thereafter, papayas were taken to other warm-weather countries by the Spaniards and Portuguese.
Loaded With Vitamins, Minerals and Enzymes
Cubans call the papaya “Fruta Bomba,” which means "bomb fruit. The papaya is indeed a bomb loaded with vital nutrients, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial elements.
Papayas are rich in antioxidants like vitamins A and C. They have substantial industrial potential due to the rich content of an enzyme called papain. Papain is commercially used in meat tenderizers, but is also extracted and put into capsules for use as a digestive aid for proteins, fats, and starches.