The Papaya originated in Central America, but is now grown in every tropical and sub-tropical country in the world. The plant is actually a giant herb rather than a tree. In Australia and a few other countries in the Commonwealth of Great Britain, the fruit goes by the name of Papaw or Paw Paw.
There are two types of papayas, Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian varieties are the papayas commonly found in supermarkets. These pear-shaped fruits generally weigh about 1 pound and have yellow skin when ripe. The flesh is bright orange or pinkish, depending on variety, with small black seeds clustered in the center. Hawaiian papayas are easier to harvest because the plants seldom grow taller than 8 feet. Mexican papayas are much larger the Hawaiian types and may weigh up to 10 pounds and be more than 15 inches long. The flesh may be yellow, orange or pink. The flavor is less intense than that the Hawaiian papaya but still is delicious and extremely enjoyable. They are slightly easier to grow than Hawaiian papayas. A properly ripened papaya is juicy, sweetish and somewhat like a cantaloupe in flavor, although musky in some types. The fruit (and leaves) contain papain which helps digestion and is used to tenderize meat. The edible seeds have a spicy flavor somewhat reminiscent of black pepper.
Contrary to what some people imagine, the Carica papaya is a single species of fruit that goes by two different names. There are just different varieties of the fruit that comes in different shapes and sizes as well as different colors and tastes just like there are different varieties of mandarins. In tropical countries, the flesh of the Papaya is often pink or red. The Reds, as they are sometimes called, have a mildly sweet taste without that very distinctive, and to some palates, objectionable Papaya taste The yellow-fleshed Papaya, on the other hand, do better in sub-tropical regions, and they do have a stronger, and sometimes slightly bitter taste.
The taste of Papaya is enhanced enormously by the addition of some lime juice. The taste of a strong yellow Papaya can be made acceptable to almost any palate if the fruit is cut into cubes and simmered in lemon juice and honey for several minutes. If not otherwise told, most dinner guests would guess that they were eating delicious stewed peaches.
Originally from southern Mexico (particularly Chiapas and Veracruz), Central America, and northern South America, the papaya is now cultivated in most tropical countries. In cultivation, it grows rapidly, fruiting within three years. It is, however, highly frost-sensitive, limiting its production to tropical climates. Temperatures below −2 °C (29 °F) are greatly harmful if not fatal. In Florida, California, and Texas, growth is generally limited to southern parts of the states. It prefers sandy, well-drained soil, as standing water will kill the plant within 24 hours.