Lusciously orange papaya may seem to be the most familiar sight but green papaya or unripe or raw papaya is probably more beneficial to health than its ripe version.
You will know if a papaya is unripe if its skin is green, firm to the touch and smells grassy and pungent. In contrast, ripe papaya has a skin which is orange, soft to the touch and smells of typical papaya aroma.
When you break open an unripe or green papaya, you will see that the flesh is light green in color and firm, with the seeds still white. As it ripens, the flesh becomes increasingly soft and the color intensifies in orange-ness.
The taste of green papaya is so unlike the ripened one. Raw or unripe papaya is bland and crunchy. Here in the Philippines, the only uses for unripe papaya are as an ingredient for chicken broth as well as green papaya pickle, the recipe of which I have elaborately detailed in this post.
Kalabanghan papaya — or papaya that is midway between very unripe and ripe — is being sold by sidewalk vendors raw. Slices of greenish to orange-y papaya are drizzled in coconut vinegar and a wee bit of salt and then packaged into 5-peso plastic pouches along sidewalk stalls. I don’t really recommend these streetfood items for obvious sanitary reasons but you can make it yourself at home.
Nutritional profile of green or unripe papaya
Green papaya packs vitamins, minerals, nutrients, antioxidants, enzymes and fiber.
Vitamins — The vitamins it abounds in are the beauty vitamins A, C and E as well as the B vitamins. We know that the ACE vitamins also serve as antioxidants.
Minerals — The minerals it packs are the important ones — potassium, calcium and magnesium. Potassium is needed for maintaining normal blood pressure levels. Other minerals it contains are choline, iron and phosphorous.
Antioxidants — Cancer-fighting antioxidants also abound in green papaya. The long array of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin. Antioxidants donate their extra electron to free radicals, thereby stopping the cascade of harmful reactions brought about by unstable free radicals. Without antioxidants, free radicals that are inevitably produced as by-products of normal metabolism could lead to inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer.
Proteolytic Enzymes — Green papaya also contains the protein-digesting enzymes papain, chymopapain and carpaine which turn proteins into amino acids and break down fats and carbohydrates as well. Here are some of the important roles these enzymes play:
- Exfoliation — The abundance of protein-digesting enzymes in green papaya explains why unripe papaya is being sneaked into exfoliative skin products such as facial soaps, scrubs, masks and creams. Enzymes work hard to break down dead skin cells to reveal the fairer, new skin underneath.
- Digestion — The amazing thing about papain is that it can break down 200 times its own weight in protein. It is a more efficient proteolytic (or protein-digesting) enzyme than our own stomach enzyme, pepsin. Papain is so powerful that it is even used commercially as a meat-tenderizer. As we age, our stomach enzymes inevitably get depleted so that intake of proteolytic enzymes such as those found in green papaya is of great help in breaking down food.
- Antiseptic — Another very important enzyme in green papaya is carpaine which has antiseptic activity against harmful bacteria in the colon while not harming the good bacteria. Carpaine is also able to dissolve pus and mucus in cases of colon ailments. Most important of all, carpaine can dissolve the hardened plaques along blood vessel walls — a fact which could alleviate atherosclerosis.
With all the amazing health benefits green papaya could give you, you may now be wondering how you could take in this little-known food. If so, you may want to check out a popular Filipino recipe I cooked which makes use of green papaya — green papaya pickle.