BY Eileen Z. Fuentes (@theSPEACHgal)
Back by popular demand, the Uptown SOUL food series is happy to introduce to you one of my favorite warm weather delights, the precious papaya. Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify that SOUL food is not exactly what you think… at least not coming from the Uptown Collective’s wellness contributor. It stands for:
The papaya encompasses many of the qualities that I look for when shopping for produce. It’s currently in season, it is not highly sprayed with pesticides, and it’s still in its natural state. And while it isn’t locally grown, this fruit is readily available and familiar to many of the residents in the Washington Heights and Inwood Community. Papaya originated in Mexico and Central America but is now present in every tropical country. Christopher Columbus called papayas “the fruit of the angels” and while there’s controversy about whether or not he really discovered America, he certainly was on to something here. Papayas are loaded with nutrients including Vitamins A, E, C, and K. It’s a great source of fiber, lycopene, and potassium. It is beneficial for both the cardiovascular and immune systems. Many (me included) use it to ease digestion issues and constipation and recently I read how effective it is for wounds that won’t heal and eczema when rubbed directly on the skin. All this and they’re low in calories!
Many of the local street vendors, bodegas, and supermarkets sell them cut in half and wrapped in plastic so that you can see and touch before purchasing. But if they are not, you can select those that have reddish-orange skin and are slightly soft to the touch. Don’t be afraid of a couple of dark spots. They won’t affect the taste. You should avoid those that are green and have a hard consistency, as they are probably not ripe yet. Once you do buy them it’s best to refrigerate them immediately and eat them within a couple of days. They can be added to a salad or blended with other fruits to make a simple smoothie. I like to just cut them up, remove the seeds and pair them with nuts for an afternoon snack. It’s the perfect balance of sweet, crunchy, juicy and refreshing after my lunch hour power walk. Before you throw out the seeds, note that they are edible too. Their peppery flavor is perfect when blended with other ingredients to make a yummy salad dressing.
There are loads of papaya supplements on the market but it is always best to go with fresh especially when it’s everywhere in your neighborhood.